Today in Legal History: Oregon Becomes the First State to Legalize Physician Assisted Suicide

On November 8, 1994, Oregon voters approved an initiative allowing terminally ill patients to plan their own death under the direction and supervision of a physician.  There were several attempts to repeal the law or block implementation including an attempt by US Attorney General John Ashcroft to use federal law (the Controlled Substances Act) to suspend the licenses of doctors who prescribed drugs to assist suicide.  All of the attempts to repeal the law failed, including a court case which went all the way to the US Supreme Court.  In Gonzalez v. Oregon 546 U.S. 243 (2006) the Court ruled 6-3 in favor of upholding Oregon’s law.

Washington was the second state to pass a physician assisted suicide act.  Washington’s Death with Dignity Act was closely modeled on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act and was passed by voter initiative on November 4, 2008

6254349889_33cd79679d_nMore information is available at:

  • John B. Mitchell, Understanding Assisted Suicide: Nine Issues to Consider Location: LAW-4th Floor  R726.M565 (2007)
  • Brian T. Yet, Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Controlled Substances Act: Gonzales v. Oregon. Congressional Research Service Report http://wlstorage.net/file/crs/RL33120.pdf
  • Kenneth R. Thomas, “Right to Die” Constitutional and Statutory Analysis. http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/97-244_20050919.pdf
  • John Keown, Euthanasia, Ethics, and Public Policy: An Argument Against Legalisation  Location: LAW-4th Floor  R726.K465 2002   (examines Dutch euthanasia laws)
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