Oregon removes assisted suicide wait for gravely ill people

The Oregon Senate sent the governor a measure Tuesday amending the state's assisted suicide law by removing the waiting period for people who have less than 15 days to live.

Posted: Jun 18, 2019 5:54 PM
Updated: Jun 19, 2019 10:12 AM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon House sent the governor a measure Tuesday amending the state's assisted suicide law by removing the waiting period for people who have less than 15 days to live.

It's a move that opponents say amounts to an expansion of Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, arguing the measure removes critical safeguards in current law meant to ensure people are confident in their decision.

"I don't want to make it any easier for any individual in any circumstance to take their life prematurely," said Rep. Duane Stark, a Republican from Grants Pass.

Those seeking life-ending medications under Oregon's Death with Dignity Act currently must make an oral request for physician-assisted suicide, wait 15 days and then make a written request. They then must wait an additional 48 hours before obtaining the prescription.

Under the new amendment, those with fewer than 15 days to live would only be subject to the 48-hour waiting period.

But opponents said that 48 hours isn't enough time for a person to make such a decision. They add that shortening the waiting period leaves terminally ill and elderly patients open to manipulation and coercion.

Rep. Rachel Prusak, who also works as a nurse specializing in hospice care, disagreed, telling lawmakers that she has worked with dozens of patients at the end of their lives. The choice to pursue assisted suicide, she said, is "not made lightly" and patients are closely evaluated to ensure they're mentally fit to make such a decision.

She adds that it's physically difficult for those at the end of their lives to "get into a car and be transported" to the doctor's office for two separate evaluations. It's not the role of lawmakers, she said, to interfere with the decisions of those at the end of their lives.

"This isn't about necessarily what I believe," said Prusak, a Democrat from West Linn. "It is an option that somebody can choose to have or choose not to have."

More than 1,450 assisted suicides have occurred in Oregon since the state implemented the law in 1997. Last week, Maine became the eighth state to allow terminally ill patients to obtain life-ending drugs.

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