Law & Legal & Attorney Human rights

What Is the Death With Dignity Act?

    The Law

    • Under the law, a patient who is a resident of Oregon or Washington who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness but remains lucid may request a prescription for a lethal dose of medicine. Two witnesses must authorize this request, and one of the witnesses cannot be the patient's doctor or a staff member of the patient's health care facility. This witness also cannot be related to the patient or be in the patient's last will and testament. A second doctor must evaluate the patient's medical records to confirm the patient's diagnosis. Once the request has been submitted with the appropriate signatures, the patient must wait 15 days and make an additional oral request to his physician for the lethal medicine to be administered. The patient can change his mind and revoke the request at any point in the process. Doctors are never required to participate in the process, but the law protects them if they decide to perform an assisted suicide.


    • In 2010, 96 patients in Oregon received prescriptions for lethal medications, and 87 Washingtonians died from assisted suicide. In both states, 78 percent of patients who participated in the program were suffering from cancer, and they cited a fear of the loss of autonomy and dignity as the reasons they requested the medication.

    Arguments for the Law

    • Supporters of the law believe that assisted suicide ends a patient's pain and suffering, and that patients can die with dignity rather than grow severely ill and incapable of taking care of themselves. Additionally, the patients and families can take the time to say goodbye to each other before the death occurs.

    Arguments Against the Law

    • Dissenters of the Death with Dignity Act argue that assisted suicide puts too much power in the hands of the doctors and patients. They feel that patients, families and doctors may be prompted to begin the process too early on, and that these individuals fail to consider unexpected recoveries. Many religions also prohibit suicide or intentional killing. They also argue that the law demeans the value of human life.

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