The state's law allows adults with terminal diseases who are likely to die within six months to obtain lethal doses of drugs from their doctors. In the six years since it went into effect, surprises have been common, including the small number of people who have sought lethal drugs under the law and the even smaller number of people who have actually used them. In surveys and conversations with counselors, many patients say that what they want most is a choice about how their lives will end, a finger on the remote control, as it were.Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Oregon's assisted suicide law, ruling that Attorney General John Ashcroft had overstepped his authority in trying to punish doctors who prescribed suicide drugs under the law.
There has been strong opposition to law's like Oregons, but support within the state has grown over the years -- even though only 1 in 100 people who begin the process of asking about assisted suicide will carry it out. Since 1997, only 171 patients with terminal illnesses have legally taken their own lives using lethal medication.