October 15, 2014

A young woman is making headlines as one of the youngest people to receive a legal prescription to terminate her life because of her terminal brain cancer. While the law popularly known as Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act has been in force for over 15 years, the comments on this article indicate that it’s still a polarizing issue for many Oregonians. (Note to self: never read the comments.)


Regardless of your stance on the law, it is important to know how this law operates. Oregonians of sound mind who are terminally ill obtain forms from the Oregon Health Authority requesting the prescription to end life. Once received, the individual administers the drug to themselves at any time of their choosing. Some people do not choose to take the drug at all, but find comfort in knowing it is there.

Some people do not choose to take the drug at all, but find comfort in knowing it is there.

The Application:

Terminally ill Oregonians must apply to receive a prescription to end life. The application forms are available here on the Oregon Health Authority website.

The statutes define “terminally ill” as an illness as “an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, produce death within six months.” The law requires that the form is signed by two witnesses. At least one of these witnesses must be fully impartial–not a relative, a person who could receive anything from the individual’s estate,  or an employee of a health facility where the individual is receiving treatment.

The individual’s physician must also complete forms verifying Oregon residency and the nature of the illness. If the physician believes the individual is suffering from any disorder which may cause impaired judgment, the individual must be referred to counseling. No person with impaired judgment, unable to give informed consent may receive a prescription under Oregon law.

The part of the law that becomes legalistic is that the individual must make an oral and written request of his or her physician. The patient must make an additional oral request within 15 days after the written request, whereupon the physician must offer the person an opportunity to rescind the request.

If you’re interested in this law, check out the statistics for the drug’s usage here: 2014 Death with Dignity Statistics