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Oregon Second-Year DWD Report: Rarely Used, No Complications

Spring 2000

The Oregon Health Division's second-year report on the Oregon Death With Dignity Act shows the law working as intended -- rarely used and without complications.

Only 27 out of more than 29,000 1999 deaths in Oregon were hastened deaths, according to the report.

"This year's report continues to prove that Oregon's landmark Death With Dignity Act is a responsible, compassionate law, used by very few people, but improving end-of-life care for everyone," said Barbara Coombs Lee, executive director of Compassion in Dying.

The report shows that in 1999, 33 terminally ill Oregonians received a prescription under the Act from their doctor, 27 took the medication and died. These statistics are little changed from last year, in which 16 people died under the Act. Cancer was the dominant disease, and loss of autonomy and the inability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable were the most frequent reasons cited for using the Act.

Other significant findings in the report are: the median age of patients using the act was 71 years, most were men, 78 percent received hospice care, all had health insurance, and there were no complications.

"Oregon continues to lead the nation in end-of-life care, and the Death With Dignity Act is an integral part of that care," said George Eighmey, executive director of Compassion in Dying of Oregon.

Oregon is one of the nation's leaders in morphine use for pain management and it has twice the national average of patients in hospice. More people die at home in Oregon than anywhere in the nation. Oregon is the only state in modern history to discipline a doctor for underprescribing pain medication.

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