By Jonah McKeown
Oregon has dropped its residency requirement for assisted suicide, meaning doctors will be allowed to prescribe lethal drugs to people who do not reside in the state.
In response to a federal lawsuit, the state agreed to stop enforcing the residency requirement March 28. In addition, the Oregon Health Authority agreed to write a bill for state lawmakers which would repeal the requirement entirely.
Oregon Right to Life, a pro-life group active in the state, deplored the settlement and expressed worry that this would mark the start of “death tourism” in Oregon.
“We already have a problem with dangerously short physician-patient relationships and the push to eliminate any waiting period for life-ending drugs. We should not be expanding access to lethal prescriptions,” said Oregon Right to Life Executive Director Lois Anderson.
“The residency requirement at least protected some patients from predatory practices going unnoticed in the current execution of the law.”
Compassion & Choices, an advocacy organization that pushes for expanded legalization of assisted suicide, filed the suit on behalf of Nicholas Gideonse, an Oregon doctor wishing to write prescriptions for patients in nearby Washington to end their lives.
The group filed the lawsuit arguing that Oregon’s residency requirement violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution, which states that “the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.”
Oregon Right to Life said the settlement allows the state to refrain from enforcing the law without the passage of any official policy or legislation, and noted that by agreeing to it, the Oregon attorney general had prevented the constitutional questions raised from being adjudicated in court.
Several other U.S. states currently allow assisted suicide — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington, Washington D.C., and Montana through a state supreme court ruling. All of them have residency requirements.
The Catholic Church teaches that euthaniasia and assisted suicide are sinful, and instead advocates for palliative care, which seeks to treat symptoms, manage pain, and improve the quality of life of people suffering from severe illnesses.
Oregon was the first U.S. state to pass an assisted suicide law, doing so in 1997. The law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. As of 2021, 3,280 people have received lethal prescriptions under the law, and two-thirds of them — 2,159 people — have died from ingesting the medications.
Oregon’s law has several provisions, including that the person seeking a lethal prescription must be 18 or older, capable of making and communicating their decision, and have a diagnosed terminal illness, with six months or fewer to live.
There is also a 15-day waiting period, though in 2019, the state changed the law such that if the terminally ill patient has fewer than 15 days to live, the 15-day waiting period can be bypassed. The waiting period usually takes place between the first verbal request and second written request for assisted suicide.
Other states, such as New Mexico and California, have waiting periods of 48 hours.