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Physician-Assisted Suicide – Oregon--an anomaly; not a harbinger


In 1994 Oregon became the only state to legalize physician-assisted suicide and the proponents called Oregon a harbinger, predicting that many states would soon follow.   The reality is that Oregon remains a solitary aberrant anomaly.  Voter referendums and legislative bills similar to Oregon’s assisted suicide law have failed in Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Washington, Wisconsin, and Hawaii. 


This year, similar bills failed in Vermont (May 3) and in California (June 27).  The failure of assisted suicide extends across the Atlantic where an Oregon-type assisted suicide bill in the British House of Lords was rejected by a 148 to 100 vote (May 12) and the British Medical Association voted 65% to 35 % to restore its opposition to assisted suicide legalization (June 29) having taken a “neutral” position one year earlier.


Why have all of these bills failed?  Because of the concern of a broad coalition of healthcare professionals, hospice workers, disability rights advocates, minority groups, pro-life advocates, and various moral and ethical leaders who have vigorously opposed the legalization of assisted suicides in these political jurisdictions. 


What are their concerns?  They have been concerned about the inability to contain assisted suicide once it starts, concerned about the financial inequalities in society, concerned about fair access to medical care by the disadvantaged, the chilling effect on palliative care, and mostly by the public documentation in our state which proves the so-called “safeguards” of Oregon’s assisted suicide law are being disregarded.


Why is Oregon’s social experiment failing to influence other political jurisdictions?  To use a medical analogy, here in the United States assisted suicide remains a “local infection” confined to Oregon while its harmful effects are becoming more widely know.  Perhaps the presence of assisted suicide in Oregon is providing an “immunologic response” which is keeping this harmful infection from spreading.  Learning from the Oregon experience, leaders across the world are recognizing that it is better to put efforts into promoting palliative and hospice care rather than to give doctors the legal right to directly and intentionally kill patients.


Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation continues to affirm the ethic that all human life has inherent value and that doctor-assisted suicide does the following:

  • Undermines trust in the patient-physician relationship.
  • Alters the role of the physician in society, from the traditional one of healer to executioner.
  • Endangers the value that society places on life, specifically for those who are most vulnerable.



Kenneth Stevens MD

William Toffler MD

Charles J. Bentz MD, FACP


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