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Posted on July 26, 2019 at 4:00 AM

This week, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed legislation to amend the Oregon
Death with Dignity Act
that allows doctors to waive the waiting period requirements for
medical aid in dying if the patient is not expected to live long enough to
complete them.

The Act allows mentally capable,
terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to have the option to
request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their
suffering becomes unbearable, and die peacefully in their sleep. The amendment,
Bill 579
, was approved by the
Senate in May and the House of Representatives last week and takes effect on
Jan. 1, 2020.

Currently in Oregon, and most of the
nine other jurisdictions where medical aid in dying is statutorily authorized, the dying
patient must make an oral and a written request for aid-in-dying medication to
an attending physician. The patient must then wait 15 days before they can
repeat the same request. In addition, the patient must wait 48 hours after
submitting a written request for medical aid in dying before the physician can
write a prescription for it. The amendment allows the doctor to make an exception to the waiting periods if the patient is
likely to die before completing them.

“Forcing eligible patients to die
suffering unnecessarily while they wait 15 days, was not the intention of the
Oregon law. We are grateful that the lawmakers in Oregon examined the evidence
and data from more than 20 years of experience and authorized this amendment,”
said Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion & Choices. “As the pioneering state in
the end-of-life care options movement, the amendment to the Oregon legislation
sends a strong signal to other states that fewer — not more — regulations are
needed to find the proper balance between protection and access.” 

A study
by Kaiser Permanente Southern California
showed that one-third of patients who requested
the option of medical aid in dying were unable to complete the process and
obtain a prescription before they died. The percentage of patients who die
suffering because they start the process in a health system that forbids their
doctors from participating is considerably higher.

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