By Chris Haring

Oregon released its 26th annual Death with Dignity Act report, employing raw data to help highlight the positive impacts of the nation’s first aid-in-dying law.

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act has been a pioneering model for expanded end-of-life options since its passage in 1994. The 2023 annual report provides valuable insights into the utilization and impact of this law, shedding light on trends and demographic characteristics of individuals who choose to access medical aid in dying.

Implemented in 1997, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act allows terminally ill individuals to request and receive medication to end their lives peacefully. After a quarter century, 2023 marked a significant legislative change as Oregon removed its residency requirement, extending access to non-residents.

Annual Death with Dignity Act data offers key insights

In 2023, 560 individuals received prescriptions under the DWDA, with 367 deaths resulting from ingesting the prescribed medications. Statewide, medical aid in dying accounted for just 0.8% of all deaths, highlighting its relatively small but crucial place among end-of-life options. 

Since its enactment in 1997, a total of 4,274 people have received prescriptions under the Death with Dignity Act, with 2,847 individuals (67%) choosing to ingest the medications. However, it is important to note that with out-of-state residents now permitted to come to Oregon to access Death with Dignity, some new challenges in data collection persist. For example, death certificate reviews are unavailable for non-Oregonians, which has resulted in an inordinate – and likely inaccurate – number of “unknown” deaths that almost definitely came from an aid-in-dying prescription.

Aid-in-dying demographics remain stable and predictable

Conversely, though, most findings have remained consistent with previous years: the majority of DWDA patients were aged 65 years or older (82%) and identified as white (94%). Additionally, cancer remained the most common diagnosis (66%), followed by neurological disease (11%) and heart disease (10%).

Moreover, the report reaffirms the preference for end-of-life care at home, with 88% of patients choosing to use physician-assisted death in the most comfortable and familiar of environments. Furthermore, 87% of individuals were enrolled in hospice care, emphasizing the integration of aid in dying within comprehensive palliative care frameworks.

Patients cite loss of dignity and autonomy as top reasons for choosing assisted dying

Notably, patients frequently cited the themes of dignity and autonomy in their decisions to pursue assisted dying. The loss of autonomy (92%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (88%), and loss of dignity (64%) were the most frequently reported end-of-life concerns.

Ultimately, the 2023 Oregon Death with Dignity Annual Report offers a comprehensive reflection on the utilization and impact of the first-in-the-nation law. By examining trends and demographics, stakeholders can gain valuable insights to inform policy, practice, and the expansion of compassionate care for individuals facing terminal illness in Oregon and across the country.

To explore previous annual report data and delve deeper into Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, visit our State Report Navigator here.