Oregon Legislature Sends Bill Reducing Barriers to Access Death with Dignity Act to Governor Brown’s Desk

Senate Bill 579 creates exemption to 15-day waiting period for terminally ill too sick to live through a 15 day wait
June 19, 2019

Director of Integrated Programs Matt Whitaker

The Oregon House of Representatives today passed Senate Bill 579 by a vote of 35 – 22, amending the Death with Dignity Act. The Act allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to have the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable and die peacefully in their sleep. Senate Bill 579 would allow doctors to make an exception to waiting period requirements if the patient is not expected to live through the 15 day wait. The Senate approved the bill last month by a vote of 16 – 11.

Compassion & Choices urges Governor Kate Brown to sign this legislation that would reduce barriers to access to medical aid in dying.

“With more than 20 years of experience in Oregon without any documented incidents of abuse, I’m pleased that the legislature has refined the Death with Dignity Act based on the actual experience of terminally ill residents who have found medical aid in dying too burdensome to access in their final days,” said Matt Whitaker, Compassion & Choices Director of Integrated Programs.

For two decades, the Death with Dignity Act has given mentally capable, terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying. The safeguards within the Death with Dignity Act have demonstrated that medical aid in dying works as intended by affirming patient autonomy while ensuring a high standard of care. However, many of these well-intentioned requirements make it very difficult for terminally ill individuals to access the end-of-life option.

There is no evidence to support that a waiting period between requests for medical aid in dying enhances patient safety. However, there is substantial evidence, which demonstrates waiting periods can actually prolong unbearable and unnecessary suffering by effectively depriving terminally ill individuals of what they consider to be the most peaceful and dignified death. Because of this, Compassion & Choices testified in support of SB 579 in both the Senate and the House.

The bill the legislature is sending to the Governor lowers a hurdle that many who wanted medical aid in dying weren’t able to clear. A study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics found that although one in 50 individuals formally make a request for medical aid in dying to their physician, only one in 25 complete the process. Another report demonstrated that even in the most supportive healthcare systems, more than 30% of terminally ill patients who began the qualification process for medical aid in dying became too ill to continue or died before they were able to complete the burdensome process to obtain a prescription.

Compassion & Choices
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