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Oregon Enacts Modest Change to Death with Dignity Law

July 23, 2019

Oregon Governor Kate Brown today signed SB 579, a modest change in the Oregon Death with Dignity Act that will allow some people on the verge of dying the ability to forego a 15-day waiting period after they have completed all of the other requirements to legally use the law.

Sponsored by State Senator Floyd Prozanski, the bill draws on over 20 years of successful implementation in Oregon following voter approval in 1994 and again in 1997.

Over the years, one of the concerns has been that people at the end of life do not always have 15 days to live once they receive the prescription from their physician. SB 579 would allow the waiver of the 15-day waiting period, provided the patient has completed all other steps of the process and is diagnosed by their attending physician to be within two weeks of dying.

The option to forgo the waiting period provides an additional measure of relief to people on the verge of dying. The final stages of a terminal disease can change rapidly, with significant and severe deterioration of quality of life in those final days. This law recognizes that, when patients are truly on their deathbed, and they have met all of the requirements to use the Death with Dignity Act, the 15-day waiting period is an unnecessary and sometimes cruel delay that forces them to suffer.

The safeguards to protect the patient, as well as other requirements such as a second opinion, counseling if necessary, and ensuring the patient is competent to make sound decisions all still must be met. It does not, as some opponents have suggested, allow a patient to request or receive a prescription on the same day as they receive the diagnosis they are within six months of death.

In a small number of cases, the final stages of a terminal disease can change rapidly, with significant and severe deterioration of quality of life in those final days. The new law recognizes that, when patients are truly on the verge of dying, and they have completed all of the requirements to use the law, the 15 day waiting period is an unnecessary and sometimes cruel delay that forces the patient to suffer.

The bill passed in the Senate 16 to 11 on May 20 and in the House 35 to 22 on June 18, 2019. It will go into effect in January 2020.

Featured image by Lessa Clayton.

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