June 6, 2018 — The Oregon Death with Dignity Act, enacted in 1997, has proven to be a model for other states seeking a way to address the issues that arise in any discussions centered around end of life decision making.
There are aspects of the original law, however, that have come to the attention of those working in the field, or with those attempting to utilize the law, that has raised concerns.
The requirements of the act are very specific and, under the law, a competent adult Oregon resident who has been diagnosed, by a physician, with a terminal illness that will kill the patient within six months may request in writing, from his or her physician, a prescription for a lethal dose of medication for the purpose of ending the patient's life. Additionally, the patient must be determined to be free of a mental condition impairing judgment.
Then, if the request is authorized, the patient must wait at least 15 days and make a second oral request before the prescription may be written.
The patient has a right to rescind the request at any time.
Should either physician have concerns about the patient’s ability to make an informed decision or feel the patient’s request may be motivated by depression or coercion, the patient must be referred for a psychological evaluation.
Florence resident Bruce Yelle has a degenerative neurological condition that, unfortunately for him, does not fit easily into the parameters of the Oregon law. He has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, but he could live for years with the illness, which would disqualify him from utilizing the law to plan for the end of his life.
He is also concerned that his illness will effect his judgement and this decline in his mental acuity will disqualify him from the law’s requirement that he be mentally able to determine the time and manner of his death.
Yelle has formed a patients-rights group, End Choices, to identify areas in the current statute that need to be modified. He hopes to adjust the law to take into consideration situations like his, that were not considered when the act was written.
“There are some problems with the original law that need to be addressed. I have formed a 501(c)(3) to help educate the public on the gaps in the original law and we hope to be able to change the current law, in the next year or two, to take into account these situations.”
Yelle has spent the past year networking with individuals involved in end of life issues and has found an important ally in the effort, Oregon resident Derek Humphry.
Humphry is the author of the multi-million bestselling book, “Final exit,” which lays out the rational and potential methods for ending one’s own life, which is commonly referred to as suicide.
The author lives in Junction City and will be joining Yelle on Sunday, June 10, at the Bromley Room at the Siuslaw Public Library for a discussion of this topic.
The forum will be educational in nature and Yelle and Humphry will participate in a discussion designed to formulate a plan to change the Oregon law.
Members of the Oregon legislature, including State Sen. Arnie Roblan, have been in contact with Yelle during the last six months and have agreed to assist in his attempts to update the current Death with Dignity law.
“I’ve met with Sen. Roblan, and he has asked us to submit suggested changes to him after we have figured out how the law needs to be changed,” Yelle said. “I think we will have something ready for the legislature to consider in 2019.”
For more information on the End of Life Options workshop on June 10, contact Yelle at 541-590-3204.