Lee v. Oregon

After the passing of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act in 1994, Lee v. Oregon was the first challenge to medical aid in dying, not only in Oregon, but in the United States.

A number of physicians, patients, and residential care facilities (“Plaintiffs”) filed a Complaint with the United States District Court. Defendants were joined by Defendant-Intervenors, who included Compassion & Choices’ President, Barbara Coombs Lee, all of whom presented arguments showing that Plaintiffs claims were baseless and the case was without standing.

The district court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs, placing a temporary and unfortunate hold in the implementation of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which prevented terminally ill Oregon residents from accessing medical aid in dying for years. Disagreeing with the court’s decision, Defendants and Defendants-Intervenors appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Finally, in February 1997, the appellate court dismissed the case, a monumental victory for the Death with Dignity Act and the medical aid in dying movement. On October 27, 1997, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act was officially implemented. Compassion in Dying (the predecessor to Compassion & Choices) client “Helen” was the first person to access medical aid in dying in the United States.

Contrary to the claims presented not only in this hearing but throughout the history of the medical aid in dying movement, in the 21 years since the implementation of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, there has been no evidence of abuse, misuse, or miscompliance with the statutory safeguards.

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