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

Oregon Right to Die was outspent $5 million to $1 million in what was at that time the most expensive battle over a ballot initiative in state history. But in the end, Oregonians voted to pass Measure 16, making their state the first place in the world with an assisted dying statute.

“Oregon Moves Into the Forefront”

“With its passage,” the Associated Press reported on November 11, 1994, “Oregon moves into the forefront of the movement to give the dying the freedom to choose when, and how, their lives end.”

This is, of course, not the end of the story. Legal and legislative battles ensued; religious opposition to the law remains strong; and opponents continue to bring challenges against aid-in-dying laws in other states. [11]

But the fact remains that, a quarter century after Oregonians approved the first-of-its kind law, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act has withstood all attempts to nullify it. It has become a part of the medical standard of care in Oregon and the model for laws in eight additional jurisdictions across the country.

Excerpt from Oregon Right to Die press release on the victory

Excerpt from Oregon Right to Die’s press release on the victory at the polls

Nationwide Impact

Moreover, Oregon’s law has had a profound impact on end-of-life care nationwide[12].

After the passage of the law 25 years ago, patients began speaking more openly with their doctors about their preferences for treatment at the end of life, whether or not they were interested in utilizing the Death with Dignity Act.

The mere existence of the law diminished the longstanding taboo of talking about death and dying publicly. In the process, the public began to explore the full range of end-of-life options to a greater degree and policymakers, clinicians, and health systems created policies and procedures to ensure patients’ preferences for care were documented and honored.

Voices of a Movement

Watch our 2019 short film, “Voices of a Movement,” which chronicles the history of the death with dignity movement through the voices of those who have played a central role in its inception and growth over a quarter century. Shot and produced by Portland, Oregon filmmaker Dawn Jones Redstone/Hearts+Sparks Productions.

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