The Oregon Trail to Death: Measure 16

By Campbell, Courtney S. | Commonweal, August 19, 1994 | Go to article overview

The Oregon Trail to Death: Measure 16

Campbell, Courtney S., Commonweal

The first "patient" of Dr. Jack Kevorkian's "medicide" was a woman from Portland, Oregon, Janet Adkins, who had been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's. The national headquarters of the Hemlock Society, and the home of Derek Humphry, author of the best-selling book Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying, are located in Eugene, Oregon. Thus, it comes as little surprise that the state of Oregon will soon join its neighboring states of Washington (1991) and California (1992) in debating and voting on a citizen initiative, Measure 16, to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The expectation of the umbrella Oregon Right to Die Coalition is that the Oregon "Death with Dignity Act" [DDA], unlike its failed predecessors, will appeal to a majority of voters this November. If that scenario occurs, Oregon will have, consistent with its self-cultivated image of pioneering moral progressivism, blazed a new trail in providing alternative end-of-life choices for the terminally ill. Whether this trail should be followed is an issue certain to be divisive in our culture for many years to come.

As approved by the Oregon Supreme Court, the DDA asks voters the following: "Shall law allow terminally ill adult Oregon patients voluntary informed choice to obtain physician's prescription for drugs to end life?" While I shall explicate later some of the statutory safeguards and legislative loopholes embedded in this language, it is important initially to recognize the difference in scope between the DDA and the failed Initiative 119 in Washington and Proposition 161 in California. In those referendums, voters were asked to approve "physician aid-in-dying," which included not only assistance in suicide but also active euthanasia, such as lethal injections, by physicians. By contrast, the Oregon DDA restricts the role of a physician to providing the prescription for a drug such as Seconal to end one's life. However, having obtained the prescription, the patient may elect not to use it. Thus the professional's role is deemed by proponents as not morally compromised. Indeed, according to Eli Stutsman, legal counsel for Oregon Right to Die, the DDA simply would "codify existing medical practice" for the terminally ill, thus permitting conduct which is now performed secretly to be performed openly without fear of prosecution (personal correspondence, June 14, 1994).

Stutsman contends that the process of drafting the DDA occurred with three principal constituencies in mind. First, the DDA is intended to advance the interests of patient autonomy by making the right to die "a fundamental civil right." Second, the DDA would ensure that health-care professionals can provide the form of care that best promotes the patient's welfare with guarantees of legal immunity. Finally, the DDA offers to the public a model of "reasonable regulation" of physician assistance-in-suicide with safeguards that the public will understand as "sensible without being onerous." While the public debate is not yet in full swing in Oregon, the efforts to satisfy the interests of these constituencies have so far been successful in dissuading several major political players from expressing opposition to the DDA.

The Oregon counterparts of the political parties and medical associations that opposed the Washington and California initiatives have thus far either endorsed the DDA or adopted a position of "neutrality." A moderate subgroup within the Republican party (The Dorchester Group) endorsed the DDA at its annual conference in February. The traditionally more liberal state Democratic party could not be this specific, although it did affirm in its 1994 platform: "We support the right of terminally ill persons to control their own end-of-life decisions." The bipartisan support of the DDA has certainly delighted proponents: "Death with dignity is an issue that cuts across the political spectrum because it involves personal choice," commented Geoff Sugarman, the executive director of Oregon Right to Die, following the March adoption of the Democratic platform. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

The Oregon Trail to Death: Measure 16


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.