10/10/2007 - Ten years have passed since Oregon became the first state in the nation to authorize doctors to assist terminally ill patients in voluntarily ending their lives. Although some predicted the legalization of physician-assisted suicide (also called physician aid in dying) in other states, similar measures have since been defeated in California, Hawaii and Vermont, leaving Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act alone in its field. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. Oregon that federal law does not prohibit Oregon doctors from prescribing lethal doses of drugs, thereby striking down a key challenge to the Death with Dignity Act.
After a decade in action, practical questions about the law remain, even as philosophical and moral questions continue to be debated. Are state-mandated safeguards adequate to prevent euthanasia or other abuses? Should doctors or healing professionals be involved in hastening death? When does autonomy cross the line into suicide?
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life invited two distinguished experts to reflect on the successes and failures of Oregon’s law, and where they would like to see the debate go from here.
Barbara Coombs Lee, President, Compassion & Choices
Leon Kass, Hertog Fellow in Social Thought, American Enterprise Institute
David Masci, Senior Research Fellow, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Read the full transcript Oregon's 'Death with Dignity' Law: 10 Years Later on the Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.
For further discussion, see these Pew Forum resources: the analysis of the tenth anniversary of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, the legal backgrounder on Gonzales v. Oregon and the resource page on end-of-life issues.