Twenty years ago today, Oregon voters rejected Measure 51 which would have repealed the Death with Dignity Act they had approved just three years before.

The law went into effect a week before the 1997 election, on October 27, but the Measure 51 campaigns dominated the media so much that, in the public eye, the law’s implementation began only with the defeat of the repeal.

Over the past few weeks, we have commemorated the momentous occasion with series of articles looking back at the historic events that provided the foundation for our work. Through the recollections of key individuals and through archival materials, we we reviewed the pivotal year and its impact on the years that followed as well as on our accomplishments.

  • In the kickoff piece, we leafed through the 1997 annual report of our predecessor organization Oregon Death with Dignity Legal Defense and Education Center.
  • We read through the letters Oregonians sent to their state legislators in support of Death with Dignity Act
  • Notes Oregon doctors wrote in support of the law and signing up to participate shed some light on the provider side of the story.
  • Our current president, George Eighmey recounted his journey in the movement.
  • The 1994 and 1997 campaign manager Geoff Sugerman gave an insider look into the workings of the campaign.
  • Nora Miller told the story of how her husband’s death with dignity influenced her advocacy.
  • Jan Rowe told us about her family’s commitment to death with dignity”
  • Ann Jackson recounted her journey from opposition to support of the law and highlighted the role of hospice in the Death with Dignity movement
  • Deborah Ziegler revealed how she honors her daughter Brittany Maynard’s legacy through her advocacy.
  • Former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts reflected on her decades of involvement in the Death with Dignity movement catalyzed by her husband, the late Oregon state Senator Frank Roberts.

In the two decades since the Death with Dignity Act started providing peace of mind to dying Oregonians, we have defended the policy in state and federal courts.

The law’s passage established a template for other statutes and campaigns for end-of-life choice across the country, and our organization has worked to expand the policy nationwide, with four more states and Washington, D.C. adopting similar statutes between 2008 and 2016.

“Today the Oregon Death with Dignity Act is the public policy yardstick against which all other death with dignity reforms are measured,” the law’s lead author and our board member Eli Stutsman says. “Oregon’s death with dignity policy has become the bedrock of the ‘right-to-die’ movement in this country, and the public policy platform that still drives this social movement.”

Perhaps most importantly, the Act brought to the fore a conversation about death and dying in America that was long overdue, and gave terminally ill Oregonians the chance to determine the time and manner of their death.

The Death with Dignity movement advances with greater speed than ever; this year alone, policy reform around physician assisted dying was considered in an unprecedented 30 states. We will continue our work to define and grow the Death with Dignity movement for the next 20 years and beyond.