Every year, a small number of Oregonians exercise their rights allowed under the Death with Dignity Act. One of the people who requested the medication was Ben Wald. In 2006, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He underwent treatment, and went back to enjoying the retired life until the cancer returned and metastasized to his lungs in 2011.
He sought treatment, but the cancer didn’t respond and instead advanced to his bones. He enrolled in hospice, and on April 3rd, 2012, he decided to also explore his end-of-life options allowed under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. In an interview with the Corvallis Gazette Times, Ben’s wife, Pam, recalled, “Once he learned that he was going to be given the choice to end his life, he relaxed.”
Just by having the option of Death with Dignity, a person regains control over a terminal illness at a time when their illness is quickly stripping away options and control. Though rarely used, the option of Death with Dignity provides comfort to countless individuals who know they have options at the end of their lives.
Each year, the Oregon Health Authority issues an annual report which sheds a light on the small group of people who pursue this option.
Some quick facts about the usage of Oregon’s law in 2013:
- 71 people hastened their deaths under the Oregon law.
- This accounts for 0.2% of all deaths in Oregon.
- The top three concerns people expressed to their doctors when requesting the medication were centered around wanting control over their final days.
The numbers also show people who request the medication under Oregon’s law receive high quality end-of-life care:
- 87% of the people who died using Oregon’s law in 2013 were enrolled in hospice. (By way of comparison, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization estimates 45% of deaths in the US are under the care of hospice.)
- Over 97% of the people who used the law died at home.
The numbers point out the bare facts around these small number of deaths, but they don’t tell the whole story. Simply having the option is what’s important. Many terminally ill Oregonians wouldn’t consider asking their doctors for the prescription. For Ben and his family, however, having this option was a gift and a blessing.
A month after beginning the medication request process, Ben and Pam invited 10 of their dearest friends to join them in celebrating a life well lived and be a comfort as Ben drifted off to a peaceful death.
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