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Oregon Voters Allow Assisted Suicide for the Terminally Ill

November 11, 1994|From Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon has become the only place in the nation that will let doctors hasten death for the terminally ill.

Measure 16 on Tuesday's ballot passed 52% to 48% Thursday. Not all the absentee ballots were counted, but both sides said they do not expect the margin to change when the tally is completed today.

Measure 16 will allow a patient with six months to live to ask a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to end unbearable suffering. At least two doctors must first agree that the patient's condition is terminal. The patient must request the drugs at least twice, then a third time in writing.

It is up to the patient to take the final step and administer the drugs.

Many Oregon doctors welcomed the prospect of legalizing suicide with a physician's help. They said that it has long been a common practice with the terminally ill.

"The physicians who are presently involved and have kept it secret and are in the closet, so to speak, will now be able to speak to their colleagues and say: 'I will do this in the future because I think it's appropriate care,' " said Dr. Peter Goodwin, a medical school professor and a leading supporter of Measure 16.

Similar measures were defeated in Washington in 1991 and California in 1992, but those initiatives differed significantly by allowing a doctor to administer the drugs.

Last year, lawmakers in the Netherlands approved guidelines that allow doctors to assist in the suicide of a patient.

The national debate over euthanasia intensified 4 1/2 years ago when Janet Adkins, a victim of Alzheimer's disease, killed herself with the help of Jack Kevorkian, who has been present at 20 deaths since 1990.

"The legalization of any form of assisted suicide will have just tremendous consequences that will reverberate through American society," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Geoffrey Fieger, attorney and spokesman for Kevorkian, said of the Oregon measure: "It's just the first domino to fall."

Measure 16 foes warned that Oregon could become a haven for doctors like Kevorkian and could attract the terminally ill from around the world. But Caplan and others rejected that notion.

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