Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act: 21 Years of Experience Informs a New Generation of Experts

Hospice experts educate colleagues in other states; doctors mentoring the next generation on implementation of medical aid-in-dying law
October 25, 2018

National Medical Director David Grube

Twenty one years of the Death With Dignity Act has positioned Oregon as a leader in end-of-life care across the country. Oregon doctors and hospice experts who have been key implementers of the practice are sharing their knowledge and experience with other states across the country that have recently authorized medical aid-in-dying legislation. The law gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully, if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable. The law took effect in Oregon on Oct. 27, 1997, marking the first such law in the nation. In addition to Oregon, medical aid in dying is authorized in six other states, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado and Hawaiʻi as well as the District of Columbia.

Oregon doctors, hospice professionals and pharmacists are lending their invaluable expertise with medical aid in dying to states that are in the process or have recently authorized the option. This expertise takes the form of staffing Compassion & Choices Doc2Doc and Pharmacist2Pharmacist national consultation phone lines, providing education and advice to peers in other states, and testifying in front of state legislatures.

“Oregon has led the way for the rest of the country in authorizing and implementing medical aid-in-dying legislation, so it is only fitting that it lead in efforts to educate other professionals to help other terminally ill patients access this vital practice,” said Kristi Jo (KJ) Lewis, Oregon & Truth in Treatment Manager for Compassion & Choices. “Twenty years of data has armed us with knowledge that will help professionals in other states acclimate to the practice at a more expedient rate, which is vital for patients living out their final days with a terminal illness who are considering this option.”

Medical experts like Dr. David Grube, national medical director for Compassion & Choices and a retired family physician in Oregon who has written prescriptions for terminally ill patients, are training the next generation on implementing the practice through residency and Doc2Doc programs. Dr. Grube stated: “Oregon has over 20 years of experience with medical aid in dying, with a tremendous amount of data that assures us of the value of this option. As the data shows, many terminally ill patients get tremendous solace from knowing they have the option of a peaceful death, even though most will not find the need to use it. I am working to train established and up-and-coming doctors on this practice because these laws spur conversations between patients, their doctor and their loved ones about all end-of-life care options, and as a result, better utilization of hospice, palliative care and pain control.”

These efforts are focused on removing barriers to the practice among healthcare professionals and facilities based on best practices learned from 20 years of implementing the law in Oregon. Compassion & Choices is also seeking to expand awareness through its Find Care Tool, which it implemented in 2016.

Since 2017, 3,278 Oregonians have accessed the tool to find medical facilities, systems and hospices with policies supportive of patient decision-making around medical aid in dying, of which there are 40 facilities.

Compassion & Choices will continue to provide support and education to the public and medical professionals. Its bilingual Access Campaign will ensure that every eligible, terminally ill Oregonian who feels that medical aid in dying is an important option has access to the Death With Dignity Act.

Compassion & Choices
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