Debating death: religion, politics, and the Oregon Death With Dignity Act

Yale J Biol Med. 2012 Jun;85(2):271-84. Epub 2012 Jun 25.


In 1994, Oregon passed the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, becoming the first state in the nation to allow physician-assisted suicide (PAS). This paper compares the public discussion that occurred in 1994 and during the Act's implementation in 1997 and examines these debates in relation to health care reform under the Obama administration. I argue that the 1994 and 1997 Oregon PAS campaigns and the ensuing public debate represent the culmination of a growing lack of deference to medical authority, concerns with the doctor-patient relationship, and a desire for increased patient autonomy over decisions during death. The public debate over PAS in Oregon underscored the conflicts among competing religious, political, and personal interests. More visible and widespread than any other American debate on PAS, the conflict in Oregon marked the beginning of the now nationwide problem of determining if and when a terminally ill person can choose to die.

Keywords: Affordable Health Choices Act; Catholic Church; Oregon; Oregon Death With Dignity Act; aid in dying; assisted suicide; death; death panel; euthanasia; physician-assisted suicide.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Oregon
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Politics
  • Public Opinion*
  • Religion
  • Right to Die / ethics
  • Right to Die / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Suicide, Assisted / ethics
  • Suicide, Assisted / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Terminal Care / ethics
  • Terminal Care / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Terminal Care / methods