We welcome the publication of the 19th annual report on the use of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.
On February 21, 2017, the Oregon Health Authority released the 19th annual report on the use of the state’s Death with Dignity Act. The report Oregon Death with Dignity Act: 2016 Data Summary covers the calendar year 2016 thru January 23, 2017, and shows the data collected under the Act in its 19th year of implementation.
In 2016, 102 physicians wrote prescriptions to 204 Oregon residents under the Act, a slight decline over the previous year. Similarly, 133 patients died from ingesting the prescribed medications, including 19 prescription recipients from prior years; 65.2 percent of people who obtained medications died after taking them.
This corresponds to 37.2 Death with Dignity Act deaths per 10,000 total deaths in the state, or 0.37%.
Similar to years past, 80.5 percent of patients who died under the Act were aged 65 years or older; the median age at death was 73 years. Most patients were white (96.2 percent) and well-educated (50 percent had at least a BA). Most patients had cancer (78.9 percent) and ALS (6.8 percent), while the number of patients suffering from heart disease rose from 2 to 6.8 percent year-on-year.
Most patients died at home (88.6 percent) and most (88.7 percent) were enrolled in hospice care. Most patients (99.2 percent) had some form of health care insurance, with the percentage of private insurance policy holders declining by half and the percentage of patients on Medicare/Medicaid increasing from 41.5 to 69.5 percent.
Finally, similar to past years, the three most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were loss of autonomy (89.5 percent), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (89.5 percent), and loss of dignity (65.4 percent).
Nineteen Years of Reporting
Since the Oregon Death with Dignity Act was affirmed in 1997 and implementation began in 1998, a total of 1,749 Oregon residents obtained prescriptions under the Act, of whom 1,127 , or 64.4 percent, have died from ingesting the medications. One out of three patients receiving medications choose not to use them. Deaths under the Act represent less than one half of one percent of all deaths in the state, or fewer than 4 in 1,000.
As every year, the groundbreaking physician-assisted dying law brings peace of mind and relief to Oregonians facing the end of life. These newly released data from Oregon prove the law provides comfort to those facing the end of life while protecting those who are vulnerable. The 2016 annual report thus provides supportive evidence for legislators and individuals in states contemplating enacting a similar law (23 in the 2017 legislative session).