It's also called “Death with Dignity” and “physician-assisted suicide” among another name or two. What is important to know is that it is NOT the same thing as euthanasia which is, by definition, understood to mean that a physician acts... ...

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Physician Assisted Death

It's also called “Death with Dignity” and “physician-assisted suicide” among another name or two. What is important to know is that it is NOT the same thing as euthanasia which is, by definition, understood to mean that a physician acts to end a patient's life.

Generally, I use the phrase “physician-assisted death” rather than “physician-assisted suicide” because “suicide” is such a loaded word. Also, “Death with Dignity, which is catchy, seems pretentious. Better to just say what it is plainly and simply.

Physician-assisted death, by whatever name, refers to a physician supplying the means of death but with the patient administering the lethal medication. This is legal in seven U.S. States: Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, Hawaii, California, Colorado, and Washington, D.C.

Oregon, where I live, was the first state, in 1997, to legalize physician-assisted death and I'm grateful to have that choice which I will use, depending on circumstances, when the time comes.

In Oregon, it is called the Death with Dignity Act (DWDA). You will find the full statute here.

And these are the are the most salient points of how the law works, from the oregon.gov website:

”The patient must make two oral requests to the attending physician, separated by at least 15 days.

“The patient must provide a written request to the attending physician, signed in the presence of two witnesses, at least one of whom is not related to the patient.

“The attending physician and a consulting physician must confirm the patient's diagnosis and prognosis.

“The attending physician and a consulting physician must determine whether the patient is capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself.

“If either physician believes the patient's judgment is impaired by a psychiatric or psychological disorder (such as depression), the patient must be referred for a psychological examination.

“The attending physician must inform the patient of feasible alternatives to the DWDA including comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.

“The attending physician must request, but may not require, the patient to notify their next-of-kin of the prescription request.

“A patient can rescind a request at any time and in any manner. The attending physician will also offer the patient an opportunity to rescind his/her request at the end of the 15-day waiting period following the initial request to participate.”

As you can see, the requirements are fairly strict. Further:

”The law does not require the presence of a physician when a patient takes lethal medication. A physician may be present if a patient wishes it, as long as the physician does not administer the medication him/herself.”

You can find pretty much everything you want to know about Oregon's DWDA here.

TGB reader Elizabeth Kurata reminded me this week about an Oregon couple who, in 2017, chose to use the state's DWDA law to end their lives together. As Time magazine reported:

”On the last morning of their lives, Charlie and Francie Emerick held hands. The Portland, Ore., couple, married for 66 years and both terminally ill, died together in their bed April 20, 2017, after taking lethal doses of medication obtained under the state’s Death with Dignity law.

“Francie, 88, went first, within 15 minutes, a testament to the state of her badly weakened heart. Charlie, 87, a respected ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician, died an hour later, ending a long struggle that included prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease diagnosed in 2012.”

The couple had allowed one of their children, Sher Safran, to make a documentary about the end of their lives, Living and Dying: A Love Story. Here is the trailer:

 

You can watch the full 45-minute documentary at Vimeo.

Is physician-assisted death a choice you would make for yourself?


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