Legalized physician-assisted suicide in Oregon--the second year

N Engl J Med. 2000 Feb 24;342(8):598-604. doi: 10.1056/NEJM200002243420822.


Background and methods: In 1997, Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide. We have previously reported data on terminally ill Oregon residents who received prescriptions for lethal medications under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act and who died in 1998. We now report similar data for 1999, obtained from physicians' reports, death certificates, and interviews with physicians. We also report data from interviews with family members.

Results: Information on 33 persons who received prescriptions for lethal medications in 1999 was reported to the Oregon Health Division; 26 died after taking the lethal medications, 5 died from their underlying illnesses, and 2 were alive as of January 1, 2000. One additional patient, who received a prescription in 1998, died after taking the medication in 1999. Thus, 27 patients died after ingesting lethal medications in 1999 (9 per 10,000 deaths in Oregon), as compared with 16 patients in 1998 (6 per 10,000). The median age of the 27 patients who died in 1999 after taking lethal medications was 71 years. The most frequent underlying illnesses were cancer (in 17 patients), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (in 4), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (in 4). All 27 patients had health insurance, 21 were receiving hospice care, and 13 were college graduates. According to both physicians and family members, patients requested assistance with suicide for several reasons, including loss of autonomy, loss of control of bodily functions, an inability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable, and a determination to control the manner of death.

Conclusions: In the second as compared with the first year of legalized physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, the number of patients who died after ingesting lethal medications increased, but it remained small in relation to the total number of persons in Oregon who died. Patients who request assistance with suicide appear to be motivated by several factors, including loss of autonomy and a determination to control the way in which they die.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality
  • Motivation
  • Oregon / epidemiology
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Social Change
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Suicide, Assisted / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Suicide, Assisted / psychology
  • Suicide, Assisted / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires