To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, we are featuring materials from our archives that chronicle the 1994 campaign to pass the Oregon law, which appeared on the November 1994 Oregon statewide ballot as Measure 16.
In 1994, the issue of death with dignity was far more taboo than it is today, in large part because no country had an assisted-dying law on the books. Before the Oregon Right to Die political action committee drafted and launched a campaign to pass the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, voters in California and Washington rejected similar ballot measures.
There was a crucial difference between Oregon’s Measure 16 and the earlier initiatives, however: unlike California’s and Washington’s measures, the Oregon law would not allow for lethal injection. The authors of Measure 16 explicitly stated the patient had to self-administer the medication that would hasten their death.
That distinction is what led the editorial board of USA Today to endorse Measure 16.
“Oregon’s proposal provides [terminally ill] individuals a better way to a death with dignity without turning doctors into killers,” the editorial states.
National media covered the campaign for Measure 16 throughout 1994. When Oregon voters passed the law, outlets from The Oregonian to The New York Times reported on the watershed moment.