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Kim Callinan: Codify improved Death with Dignity Act

Kim Callinan

Kim Callinan, CEO, Compassion & Choices

Opponents of medical aid in dying, an end-of-life care option that allows terminally ill adults to peacefully end their suffering, are hyperbolizing the impact of the amendment (SB 579) the Oregon Legislature approved on Wednesday to the state’s first-in-the-nation Death with Dignity law.

It is the model for the practice of medical aid in dying in nine other jurisdictions: California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawai‘i. Montana (via Supreme Court ruling), Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and starting in August and mid-September, New Jersey and Maine.

The amendment, sponsored by Senator Floyd Prozanski (District 4/South Lane and North Douglas Counties) and which we hope Governor Kate Brown will sign into law, is in response to a robust body of evidence that demonstrates that the current law has unnecessary, overly burdensome regulations. While some dying patients are able to navigate the 13-step process, too many eligible patients die suffering, unable to realize the peace of mind and autonomy the law is designed to deliver.

For example, a study by Kaiser Permanente Southern California showed that one-third of patients who requested the option of medical aid in dying were unable to complete the process and obtain a prescription before they died. The percentage of patients who die suffering because they start the process in a health system that forbids their doctors from participating is considerably higher.

According to Medscape, 65 to 85 percent of patients with cancer — by far the most common disease among people who request medical aid in dying — experience severe pain that erupts even when a patient is already medicated with a long-acting painkiller. Forcing eligible patients to unnecessarily die suffering, while they wait 15 days, was not the intention of the Oregon law.


Click here for the full article in the Eugene Register-Guard, published Saturday, June 22, 2019.