Looking Back, Moving Forward: 25 Years of Death with Dignity in Oregon

Twenty-five years after Oregon voters passed the Oregon Death with Dignity Act—the first statute of its kind in the world—we are chronicling the campaign that led to its passage and its enduring legacy as a catalyst for expanding end-of-life options across the country. This is the first installment.


Geoff Sugerman had been awake for 55 hours straight.

It was July 8, 1994. Sugerman, the campaign manager of the political action committee Oregon Right to Die, and his staff had been racing against the clock to count, organize, and sort signatures gathered to place a death with dignity measure on the Oregon state ballot for the November 1994 election.

Ten weeks prior, Sugerman had gathered the first signature on the steps of the Oregon State Capitol. Today, the committee would submit 95,777 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office—30 percent more than needed to quality for the November ballot.

“What an exciting day that was for all of us across America, who have been working on right-to-die issues for so long,” wrote the late Peter Goodwin, MD, a co-founder of Oregon Right to Die and one of the first physicians to speak out publicly in support of assisted dying.

“A New Idea”

Years before the PAC was formed, the ballot measure drafted, and the campaign for the passage of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act[1] launched, a small group of individuals began gathering – first in a public library, then in a church, and later in their own office space – to have conversations about how to improve end-of-life choices for dying patients, many of whom endured unbearable suffering at the end of life.

Geoff Sugerman (left) with Eli Stutsman, JD, leader of the Oregon Right to Die PAC and lead author of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. Eli Stutsman[2], the lead author of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act and a member of Death with Dignity’s Board of Directors, was a founding member of this group. By early 1993, Stutsman recalled,

We would soon go public with a new idea. We believed that a competent, terminally ill adult, with a prognosis of six months or less to live, should be allowed to hasten a difficult death within narrow and well-defined circumstances, if he or she so desired.

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