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Death with Dignity Advocates Congratulate Sundance Winner

Documentary Prize for Film on End-of-Life Experience of Oregonians

PORTLAND, OR – Compassion & Choices, the nation’s largest and oldest nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life, today congratulated documentary filmmaker Peter Richardson for winning the top documentary film prize at the Sundance Film Festival. They also cited the film for raising awareness about physician aid in dying. The documentary, How to Die in Oregon, follows terminally ill Oregonians who consider asking their doctors for aid in dying.

“We congratulate Peter Richardson on winning the Sundance documentary prize and appreciate his efforts to provoke thoughtful discussion of Oregon’s Death with Dignity law,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion & Choices. “People should not be misled by the title of the film. This is not a ‘how-to’ film. Only a tiny handful of Oregonians access the very personal choice of aid in dying each year. The film’s title could imply aid in dying is common in Oregon.”

Annual reports from the state of Oregon, as well as independent research, confirm this. Although many Oregonians with a terminal illness may consider aid in dying as an option, and all benefit from improved care because the option exists, only a few complete a request under the law. Of those who complete the request process only about 60% ultimately ingest life-ending medication.

Objective measures of generally improved end-of-life care in Oregon include the experiences of hospice nurses, use of medical morphine, referrals to hospice and the nation’s second-lowest rate of in-hospital deaths and the second-highest rate of home deaths.

“People who honestly confront their imminent death, wherever they are, should be able to ask their doctors for an escape from intolerable suffering,” said Coombs Lee. “Many doctors will not even engage in such a discussion, for fear of prosecution. In Oregon, physicians can openly respond about a full range of options including disease-focused treatment, pain management, hospice care, palliative sedation and aid in dying. Such discussions give patients tremendous peace of mind. Oregon’s law is not at all about ‘how to die;’ it’s about comfort, control and compassion.”

Compassion & Choices advocates choice and better care at the end of life. Anyone facing a terminal illness can reach their end-of-life counselors, free of charge, at 1-800-247-7421 to obtain nonjudgmental information about end-of-life care and options.

Information is also available at www.compassionandchoices.org/g2g.