Purpose/Objectives: To inform readers about the Oregon Death With Dignity Act and present a compilation and summary of major arguments in debates regarding physician assistance in dying for the terminally ill.
Data Sources: Experience, medical records, the patient’s physician and family, books, periodicals, legislative documents, and publications.
Data Synthesis: The Oregon Death With Dignity Act became a legal option for terminally ill Oregon residents in October 1997. Persuasive psychological, theological, philosophical, and pragmatic arguments protest the Act as being irrational, immoral, contrary to medical ethics, and dangerous. Equally persuasive arguments advocate the Act as rational, moral, consistent with the practice of healing, and safe.
Conclusions: Physician assistance in dying is a legal option for terminally ill patients in the State of Oregon. For such a practice to be “out of the closet,” as well as legal, is novel. The debate about the appropriateness of this Act revolves around values and beliefs that are seasoned and cherished.
Implications for Nursing Practice: As the practice of the terminally ill requesting physician assistance to die moves into the realm of a rational patient choice and legal physician action, nurses increasingly will be faced with having to deal with their own beliefs, attitudes, and emotions regarding this issue. Nurses cannot hide behind glib responses, quick referrals, institutional policies, or organizational standards to cover their own discomfort or confusion. They must discuss and formulate an understanding of healing and caring in situations that may challenge their core values.