Oregon, the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the United States, is now considering further relaxing restrictions on the procedure by waiving waiting periods and expanding the methods of taking the deadly drugs. Two bills currently before the House and Senate, House Bill 2217 and Senate Bill 579, are scheduled for votes soon in their respective houses.
In Oregon, mentally competent adults with a terminal illness diagnosis, defined as “a condition that … will result in the patient’s death within six months,” may self-administer medications that would end their lives. The patient must make two requests, separated by a 15-day waiting period. The so-called Death With Dignity Act was passed by a slim margin in 1994 after contentious local and national debate. In 2014, the national eye was again turned towards the state’s euthanasia laws after Brittany Maynard called public attention through social media to her eventual use of the euthanasia law. Oregon has also been a “test case” for subsequent states that legalized euthanasia, as the law has been in effect for some 20 years.
The first bill, SB 579, goes up for a vote Friday morning. If passed, it would eliminate the 15-day waiting period between a patient’s two requests for assisted suicide for someone with less than 15 days to live. If a physician waives the waiting period, the person can die the following day. The second bill, HB 2217, would change how the lethal drugs may be administered. Current interpretations of the law say the medication must be taken orally. Lawmakers want to expand the law to include IV, injection, or other methods so that patients who are unable to swallow or self-administer pills are also able to commit suicide.
Oregon Right to Life has spoken out against both bills. Lois Anderson, the organization’s Executive Director, highlighted the danger of the legislation in an email sent out Thursday. “Vulnerable Oregonians in medical crisis need protection and support. These bills would do the very opposite of that and place them in even greater danger,” said Anderson. “We will continue to stand guard and oppose legislation that puts innocent Oregonians at risk.”
The pro-life organization pointed out that both bills would make it much easier for people of malicious intent to victimize the sick, elderly, and vulnerable. “The word ‘taken’ was specifically chosen when the law was passed,” said Anderson. “It was selected so that it was clear that it was a conscious individual picking up the medication, placing it in their mouth and swallowing it. […] There is no safety mechanism in place to ensure that another person isn’t the one administering the medication.” As Anderson noted in an email, “Even activists in favor of physician-assisted suicide testified against HB 2217 because of the loopholes endangering Oregonians.”
The chipping away of restrictions on legalized euthanasia follows the disturbing slippery slope in countries like The Netherlands, where people with dementia, autism, and other disabilities are vulnerable to euthanasia. “The process of bringing in euthanasia legislation began with a desire to deal with the most heartbreaking cases – really terrible forms of death,” said former Dutch euthanasia advocate-turned-skeptic Theo Boer, according to The Guardian. “But there have been important changes in the way the law is applied. We have put in motion something that we have now discovered has more consequences than we ever imagined.”
If pro-euthanasia advocates get their way in Oregon, at least one state in the U.S. will take a step toward fulfilling Boer’s somber prediction: “Look closely at the Netherlands because this is where your country may be 20 years from now.”
Seven states and the District of Columbia currently have legal assisted suicide laws.
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