Improvements to Oregon Death With Dignity Act Closer After Hearing

HB 2279 addresses a change to the law’s residency requirement, presented in response to 2022 lawsuit 

Advocates across Oregon are feeling hopeful after Monday’s hearing on Oregon House Bill 2279. The House Behavioral Health and Health Care Committee heard the bill, which will next go to a work session. HB 2279 will solidify a critical improvement to Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act. This law has authorized access to medical aid in dying medication for terminally ill, mentally capable adults with a prognosis of six months or less to live. The original bill, enacted in 1997, also required that patients be Oregon residents. 

“We are looking forward to seeing the powerful work of our legal advocacy team come to fruition here this session,” says Callie Riley, Northwest Regional Advocacy Manager at Compassion & Choices Action Network. “Oregon has long-been a leader in end-of-life options across the country, and this change - in response to physicians and patients calling for action - will continue the incredible legacy.” 

In 2021, the legal team at national end-of-life nonprofit Compassion & Choices, alongside Angeli Law Group and Bradley Bernstein Sands LLP, filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Oregon physician Dr. Nicholas Gideonse, which challenged the constitutionality of the residency restriction. In this case, Gideonse v. Brown, et al., Dr. Gideonse explained that he regularly treats patients from neighboring Washington state; medical aid in dying was the only type of care that he was unable to provide to these individuals, due to their address. 

“I speak for my patients in southwest Washington, who approached me when facing a terminal illness about whether I could continue to be their doctor for these services. I could not because of the river between us.” said Dr. Gideonse, who joined the hearing to testify in support of its passage. “I see a substantial amount of patients from across the river (Washington State) for services and this should not be an artificial barrier that comes between me and my existing patients or future patients who happen to reside out of state.”

In the past, Dr. Gideonse’s patients had to either find a new doctor at the end of their lives, or lose access to the option of medical aid in dying. Dr. Gideonse argued that the residency restriction violated the United States Constitution because it unlawfully discriminated against his out-of-state patients.

In March of 2022, Dr. Gideonse and the defendants reached a settlement in the case. As a result, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Oregon Medical Board, and the Multnomah County District Attorney agreed not to enforce the residency restriction. Further, the OHA also agreed to initiate a legislative request to permanently remove the residency restriction from the law. 

“We advocate for legislation to improve the quality of care for terminally ill patients and affirm their right to determine their own medical treatment options as they near the end of life” said Amitai Heller, Senior Staff Attorney at Compassion & Choices, who was a part of Dr. Gideonse’s legal team. “Making this change is not only the right thing to do to ensure access to interstate healthcare, but it is also likely required in order for the State of Oregon to comply with the US Constitution.”

Advocates now wait for news on the next phase for HB 2279. 

Paid for by Compassion & Choices Action Network