HealthDay News — According to a report published in JAMA Oncology, fewer than 1000 residents have followed through since Oregon became the first state to permit physician-aided dying in 1997.

Using data from the Oregon Health Authority from 1998 through 2015, Charles Blanke, MD, a professor of medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cancer Institute in Portland, and colleagues found that 1545 prescriptions for lethal medication were written. But, less than two-thirds of these patients — 991 in all — used the drugs.

Of those who took their life, men slightly outnumbered women. Patients’ ages in 2015 ranged from 25 to 102, with more than half older than 71. 

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While cancer accounted for the overwhelming majority of cases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, lung disease, heart disease, and HIV also led to physician-assisted death. For 9 out of 10, losing autonomy and not enjoying activities of daily living were the primary reasons for wanting to die.

Loss of dignity led to 78.7% of the overall deaths, while uncontrolled pain was cited by one-quarter of patients. The researchers said that 5.3% of the patients underwent a psychiatric evaluation to assess their competence in making end-of-life decisions.

Also, “contrary to claims that it might be pushed onto the poorly educated or disadvantaged — mostly white, older, college-educated people used the law,” Blanke told HealthDay. For example, nearly all were white.

More than 9 out of 10 were receiving hospice care and had health insurance. And 70.8% had at least some college education. Most patients died at home. On average, they fell into a coma 5 minutes after taking the drug and died within 25 minutes.


Blanke C, et al. “Characterizing 18 Years of the Death With Dignity Act in Oregon.” JAMA Oncol. 2017. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2017.0243 [Epub ahead of print]

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