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August 9, 1995

Physician-Assisted Suicide in OregonA Bold Experiment

Author Affiliations

From the Program in Medical Ethics (Drs Alpers and Lo), the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program (Dr Lo), the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (Drs Alpers and Lo), and the Division of General Internal Medicine, University of California, San Francisco (Drs Alpers and Lo).

JAMA. 1995;274(6):483-487. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530060057034

ON NOVEMBER 8, 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Voters approved the Death With Dignity Act, which allows qualified patients to "legally request and obtain medication from a physician to achieve a humane and dignified death."1 A federal district court has issued an injunction delaying the implementation of the law until the court can decide several constitutional challenges the measure poses.2 Nevertheless, with passage of this measure, the debate over assisted suicide enters a new phase. The issue is no longer whether assisted suicide should ever be legalized, but rather how this initiative will be implemented and whether other states will follow Oregon's example. The response of Oregon physicians to a host of unanswered questions raised by the Death With Dignity Act may affect how citizens of other states view assisted suicide.

Physicians can expect patients with conditions such as

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