Oregon, the first U.S. state to legalize physician-assisted suicide, is now welcoming terminally ill non-residents across state lines in order to end their lives.
The state announced that it will no longer enforce a requirement that people have to be residents of the state in order to receive lethal medication. The move came after an Oregon physician sued the state on the grounds that the residency requirement in Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act was unconstitutional.
The Death with Dignity Act, enacted in 1997, legalized physician-assisted suicide for people deemed to have less than six months to live. Oregon is one of 11 jurisdictions with legal assisted suicide: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. All except Oregon require patients to be residents.
Outcry from pro-life groups and advocates for the vulnerable
The National Right to Life Committee denounced the change, saying it would “turn Oregon into a center for assisted suicide tourism,” according to a CNN report.
The Catholic Medical Association’s president, Dr. Craig Treptow, concurred, warning that the change would further undermine protections put in place to protect the vulnerable.
“Removing the residency requirement from Oregon’s so-called Death With Dignity Act further undermines the dignity and sanctity of life,” said Treptow. “Inviting people from across state lines to come to Oregon to end their lives is not aligned with good medical care.”
A fluid definition of “terminal illness”
While Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) requires patients to be diagnosed with a terminal illness “that will lead to death within six months,” the state’s own records show that, in practice, it is much easier to qualify for assisted suicide.
Patients suffering from diseases that are not usually considered terminal, such as diabetes, arthritis, gastrointestinal diseases, and respiratory disease, died by lethal medication, according to the state’s 2020 Data Summary for the DWDA.
The document lists the “end of life concerns” for those who died by lethal overdose under the DWDA. Between 1998 and 2020, the record shows that 47.5% of those who died had responded to a questionnaire, saying that they were concerned about being a “burden on family, friends/caregivers.”
This data confirms what pro-life activists and advocates for the disabled have been warning ever since Oregon became the first state to legalize assisted suicide. The law puts vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those with disabilities, at risk. Fear of being a “burden” on others, coupled with the ease of ending one’s life, could unnecessarily curtail lives.
The National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that operates as an advisory council, has long opposed assisted suicide. In a 2019 report, they found that patients in Oregon who are denied medical treatment by insurers are being offered assisted suicide instead.
“When assisted suicide is legalized in the context of the US healthcare system, it immediately becomes the cheapest treatment. Direct coercion is not necessary. If insurers deny, or even simply delay, approval of expensive life-sustaining treatment, patients can be steered toward hastening their deaths—and sometimes insurers help them to do so,” reported the NCD.
The report cited examples of patients who had been urged to opt for the cheaper option:
“Oregonian Randy Stroup was prescribed Mitoxantrone as chemotherapy for his prostate cancer. His oncologist said the medication’s benefit has been shown to be ‘not huge, but measurable’; while the drug may not extend a patient’s life by very long, it helped make the final months of life more bearable by decreasing pain. Yet Stroup also received a letter saying that the Oregon Health Plan would not cover his treatment, but would pay for the cost of, among other things, his assisted suicide.”
Since Oregon’s law was enacted, 2,159 people have died from ingesting lethal drugs. With the removal of the residency requirement, those numbers could very well increase, as the state becomes a national assisted suicide destination.