July 01, 2013

Twenty Years of Living with the Oregon Death with Dignity Act

Eli Stutsman

Twenty years this summer ago I was involved in a small group that had been working quietly and un-noticed for several years. We first met in a public library, then in a church, and later we leased our own small office space. We would soon go public with a new idea. We believed that a competent, terminally ill adult, with a prognosis of six months or less to live, should be al-lowed to hasten a difficult death within narrow and well-defined circumstances, if he or she so desired.

In June 1993 we filed with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office a statement of organization, which was necessary to create our political committee. We named the committee Oregon Right to Die. Later that same year we filed a citizen’s initiative. Our initiative was first known as Measure 16, but today it is known as the Oregon Death with Dignity Act (codified at Or. Rev. Stat. 127.800 et seq.).

A Time for Action

The early 1990s was a pivotal time for the right to die movement. Dr. Jack Kevorkian was at the height of his fame. One of his early patients, Janet Adkins, was an Oregonian who in 1990 traveled to Michigan (Kevorkian’s home state) to hasten her death. She did so in a Volkswagen bus owned by Kevorkian. Yet as unusual as these circumstances appeared, the Adkins family was grateful someone was willing to listen to and help a beloved member of their family. The next year, Derek Humphry’s book, Final Exit, reached the top of The New York Times best-seller list. Final Exit was, and remains, a definitive guide to dying patients on how to hasten one’s own death. Humphry was also an Oregonian and still lives in the bucolic foothills of the coastal mountain range, just west of Eugene, Oregon.

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