Group Commends Governor Brown for Signing Legislation that Reduces Barriers to Medical Aid in Dying

New amendment to Death with Dignity Act improves national model

Compassion & Choices today commended Governor Kate Brown for signing an amendment to the Oregon Death with Dignity Act that allows doctors to waive the waiting period requirements for medical aid in dying if the patient is not expected to live long enough to complete them. 

The Act allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to have the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable, and die peacefully in their sleep. The amendment, Senate Bill 579, was approved by the Senate in May and the House of Representatives last week and takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020. 

Currently in Oregon, and most of the nine other jurisdictions where medical aid in dying is authorized, the dying patient must make an oral and a written request for aid-in-dying medication to an attending physician. The patient must then wait 15 days before they can repeat the same request. In addition, the patient must wait 48 hours after submitting a written request for medical aid in dying before the physician can write a prescription for it. The amendment, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Floyd Prozanski (Dist. 4/South Lane and North Douglas Counties), allows the doctor to make an exception to the waiting periods if the patient is likely to die before completing them.

“I thank Gov. Brown for recognizing the need to improve this groundbreaking law. SB 579 will allow terminally ill Oregonians the option to use it to die peacefully and on their own terms,” said Sen. Prozanski. “This improvement will result in fewer Oregonians suffering needlessly at the end of their lives.”

“Forcing eligible patients to die suffering unnecessarily while they wait 15 days, was not the intention of the Oregon law. We are grateful that the lawmakers in Oregon examined the evidence and data from more than 20 years of experience and authorized this amendment,” said Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion & Choices. “As the pioneering state in the end-of-life care options movement, the amendment to the Oregon legislation sends a strong signal to other states that fewer -- not more -- regulations are needed to find the proper balance between protection and access.” 

A study by Kaiser Permanente Southern California showed that one-third of patients who requested the option of medical aid in dying were unable to complete the process and obtain a prescription before they died.  The percentage of patients who die suffering because they start the process in a health system that forbids their doctors from participating is considerably higher.  

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act is the model for the practice of medical aid in dying in nine other jurisdictions: California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawai‘i, Montana (via Supreme Court ruling), Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and starting in August and mid-September, New Jersey and Maine.