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Supporters, Opponents Tangle Over Death With Dignity Expansion

Rachael McDonald

Supporters and opponents of a proposed expansion of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act spoke out at a hearing at the state capitol Tuesday. 

So far this session, lawmakers have introduced four bills that would expand the voter-approved law, but this week’s hearing by the House Health Care Committee was the first public discussion of any of the proposals.

The Death With Dignity Act allows terminally-ill Oregonians to request medication that would end their life. The law requires those people to take the lethal prescription orally. Tuesday’s hearing was for a bill that would allow patients to take the medication other ways, as long as they did it themselves. The alternative methods of self-administering the medication are not specified in the bill, but could include an IV tube or injection.

Supporters, including Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, said that would allow people with difficulty swallowing to use the law as it was otherwise intended. “It would simply facilitate the process for a small subset of patients who are otherwise qualified to use the Death With Dignity Act, but are physically incapable or very challenged to meet the requirement that the medication be orally administered,” she testified.

Opponents said other methods of taking drugs would open up the possibility that someone else in the room would administer the fatal dose. “The problem with this set-up is that it’d be very easy for another person to start the process without the person being aware of it,” said Kenneth Stevens, a physician from Sherwood, Oregon.

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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