Throughout North America, committing suicide
or attempting to commit suicide is no longer a
criminal offense. However, helping another
person commit suicide is a criminal act. One
exception is the state of Oregon which, since
1997, has allowed people who are terminally ill
and in intractable pain to obtain a lethal
prescription from their physician and end their
chronic suffering. This is called "Physician
Assisted Suicide" or PAS.
1991: Washington state: defeated narrowly 54% to 46%
1992: California: Defeated narrowly 54% to 46%
1998: Michigan: Defeated overwhelmingly 71% to 29%
2000: Maine: Defeated very narrowly 51% to 49%.
Between 1994 and 2006, there were 75 legislative
bills to legalize PAS in 21 states. All of them failed.
Permitted in Oregon under very tightly
Notspecifically mentioned in the laws of
North Carolina, Utah and Wyoming.
Specifically criminalized in the remaining
“The voters of Oregon acted with great humanity
when they decided to allow terminally ill people to
determine when they have suffered enough.” New
“How can there be ‘death with dignity’ when the
patient must humbly petition the doctors, then
meekly wait for a unanimous ruling?” Sheldon
Richman, senior fellow at The Future of Freedom
“The longer you keep an act in place, the more
people become desensitized to it, and it no longer
causes the appropriate righteous indignation.”
William Toffler, MD, national director of Physicians
for Compassionate Care.
The Death With Dignity law went into effect in Oregon
in 1997. It allows some terminally-ill patients to request
assistance in committing suicide. By the end of 2004,
208 individuals have ended their life with the help of
lethal prescriptions. The number appears to be leveling-
off at about 40 assisted suicides per year. Physician
assisted suicide under the act accounts for only one-
seventh of one percent of all deaths in the state.
92% reported a decreasing ability to participate in
activities that made life enjoyable
87% reported loss of autonomy
78% reported loss of dignity
In January of 2006, after years of litigation, the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled that the Oregon program is
constitutional and legal under current federal laws. It may
continue, in spite of Federal Government efforts to close it
down. However, they left the door open for future federal
laws that might outlaw the practice.