Assisted Suicide in Oregon – Updated Facts re Safeguards

The State of Oregon (population 3.93 million) law allowing doctors to prescribe lethal overdoses for some patients’ suicides took legal effect late in 1997. Supporters often point to its safeguards operating well and having prevented abuse. In fact the data suggest that the “safeguards” are largely meaningless. The numbers of deaths under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act has greatly increased over the years.

  • In Oregon, 1545 lethal prescriptions have been written and at least 991 patients have ingested the drugs up to the end of 2015.
  • In 2015 there were 132 deaths, a 26% increase over 2014 and almost eight times the deaths in the law’s first full year.
  • All reporting about doctor-assisted deaths is self-reporting by the doctors prescribing lethal drugs.
  • Doctors cannot report reliably on the situation when patients actually ingest the lethal overdose and die, as nothing in the law requires them to be present. No one else who may be present is required to report.
  • In Oregon, the prescribing physician was present at the time of death in only 11% of cases in 2013 and 2015 and 14% in 2014, compared to an average of 16.5% in previous years.
  • From 1998 to 2012, on average only 6.2% of patients who died under the Act in Oregon were referred for counselling to check for “impaired judgment.” In 2013-2015 this declined to less than 4%.
  • Once lethal drugs have been prescribed the Act has no requirements for assessing the patient’s consent, competency, or voluntariness. No witnesses are required at the time of death.
  • In 2015, a clear majority were women (58%, compared to an average of 47% in past years).
  • Those dying under the law increasingly have no or only governmental health insurance – 56% in 2013, 60% in 2014, and 63% in 2015 (compared to an average of 35% in past years).
  • Inadequate treatment for pain or concern about it, is not among the top reasons for taking lethal drugs; in 2015, over 90% cite “losing the ability to engage in activities making life enjoyable” and “losing autonomy,” and 48% cite being a “burden” on family, friends or caregivers (compared to an average of 40% in past years).


Oregon Death with Dignity Act: Data summaries 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops