In the state of Oregon, a law called the Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) was adopted after it was upheld by the voters in the state in two occasions. The first time was in November 1994 when the DWDA, which was a citizen’s initiative, won the balloting with a 51% affirmative vote. The DWDA was once again endorsed by the Oregon voters in November 1997 when they rejected Measure 51 in another round of balloting.
Measure 51 sought for the repeal of DWDA. By voting against Measure 51 with a 60%-40% majority vote, the Oregon voters, in effect, upheld the DWDA for the second time. After several legal proceedings which reached the United States Supreme Court, physician-assisted suicide under the DWDA was legalized in the state of Oregon. Proponents of the law refused to call it a law on euthanasia, insisting on its being a physician-assisted suicide law.
According to them, euthanasia occurs only when a physician, a caregiver, or some other person “personally” administers the drug which ends the life of the patient. They agree that euthanasia is expressly prohibited under the laws of the United States. In addition, they maintain that patients with terminal illnesses who have chosen to end their own lives according to the manner and requirements provided for by the DWDA are not even considered to be committing suicide. Instead, they have merely opted to end their lives with “death with dignity.
” For this purpose, the Oregon law, according to them, has set down strict requirements which should be specifically satisfied before a patient could be allowed to make his or her request to “die with dignity” under the Oregon law (Oregon Department of Human Services). The DWDA specifies that the terminally-ill who are expected to die in six months, who are at least 18 years old, and who are “able to make and communicate health care decisions” are eligible to request the assistance of their physicians for access to lethal drugs for the purpose of ending their own lives.
Although “death with dignity” is admittedly a physician-assisted suicide, the assistance of the physician is limited to prescribing the lethal drug that would be used by the patient to end his or her own life. The law also provides that patients who choose to die under the provisions of the DWDA are still entitled to the proceeds of their life insurance because they are not considered to have committed suicide (Oregon Department of Human Services).