Now is the Moment to Reflect: Two Years of Experience with Oregon's Physician Assisted Suicide Law
Susan R. Martyn
University of Toledo - College of Law
Henry J. Bourguignon
University of Toledo College of Law
Elder Law Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2000
In November of 1994, Oregon voters approved Measure 16, the Death with Dignity Act, making Oregon the first state to legalize the practice of physician-assisted suicide. Three years later, the law went into effect.
The authors begin by looking to the state's own assessment of its law as set forth in two reports from the Oregon Department of Human Resources. They emphasize that all of the restrictive elements of the state law, the law's supposed "teeth" are vague, elastic concepts, subject to personal interpretation by physicians. The Oregon statute depends upon and requires physicians to determine such illusive factors as whether the patient is competent, is acting voluntarily, is suffering pain, or is terminally ill.
The authors review each of these components of the law, analyzing the law's objectives in light of recent experience with its operation. They then explore issues surrounding a physician's determination of capacity and voluntariness and confront the complexities of determining what constitutes "terminal illness" and physician "assistance." They conclude that the law imposes in practice no effective or enforceable restrictions on physician-assisted suicide, and that these statutory requirements make physicians, not their patients, the effective decisionmaker about whether a suicide wish is granted. The authors therefore recommend that other states who consider Oregon's experience refrain from enacting similar laws.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 57
Keywords: Oregon, Physician-Assisted Suicide, Death with Dignity, Capacity, Voluntariness, Terminal Illness, Empirical Study, Competence, Documentation
JEL Classification: K42
Date posted: September 23, 2000 ; Last revised: May 11, 2012