By George Eighmey, President of Death with Dignity National Center.
It was with a heavy heart that I learned yesterday of the death of another staunch advocate for Death with Dignity and friend of our organization, Dr. Peter Rasmussen, MD. He died peacefully, surrounded by his loving family—wife Cindy and stepchildren Gretchen and Keith—after taking medication prescribed under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. He was 70 years old.
Peter was a dear friend and mentor. I last visited him at his home five days ago. We chatted for about an hour and when I left he gave me the kindest memory. He said, “George, you have always been there for me when I needed you. Thank you.”
Dr. Rasmussen campaigned for Oregon’s groundbreaking Death with Dignity Act in the 1990’s and was one of the first physicians in the state to prescribe medication for his patients under the law.
He was also a respondent in the US Supreme Court case Gonzales vs. Oregon that decided the federal government could not restrict Oregon physicians from prescribing medication under the Act.
Even after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma last year, he wrote op-eds in California and New York papers advocating for Death with Dignity laws there and worked with researchers looking into the Oregon experience with the end-of-life option.
Peter was a compassionate and caring oncologist and palliative-care physician who provided the best medical care available for his patients. He was a loving husband and father whose larger-than-life presence will be missed, but not forgotten.
On days like these I am filled with both sadness and hope. In Dr. Rasmussen his family lost a loving husband and father, I a dear friend, and the Death with Dignity movement a brave leader. He was always there for us when we needed him. And he was always there for his patients when they needed him at the end of their lives.
The manner of his death means our work matters: like Dick Walters in Vermont a few weeks ago, Dr. Rasmussen was able to die peacefully, at the time and place of his choosing and surrounded by his loved ones, using the very law he advocated for.
I am, therefore, hopeful that soon all qualified terminally ill Americans in every state will have the same end-of-life option Dr. Rasmussen had here in Oregon.
Please send Dr. Rasmussen’s family your thoughts at this difficult time. Add your name to sign this condolence card for them.