reed magazine logonovember2005

A right to die, a will to live

According to the “Seventh Annual Report on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act,” released last March by the Oregon Department of Human Services, 37 people took their lives in 2004 using medications prescribed under the act. That was down from 42 in 2003. Another 23 Oregonians who received prescriptions for lethal drugs in 2004 did not use them. Those who did use them represent about 12 assisted suicides per 10,000 deaths in the state, or a little more than 0.1 percent. The majority of the 37 people who availed themselves of physician-assisted suicide in 2004 had malignant tumors.

Don and Claire James were celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary on the day in 2004 when they heard that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had ruled against Ashcroft and the Bush administration.

“That was a great day for Oregon,” said James. “Democracy worked.” He said the reason he was in the battle to begin with was “to say to the Bush administration: ‘Stay out of Oregon’s affairs.’ We voted for this law. We all celebrate the wonderful thing that happened this year in Iraq: the vote. Well, the Oregon vote was meaningful, too.”

But the fight goes on: The case (Gonzalez v. Oregon) moved on to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in October, with many eyes on President Bush’s newly appointed chief justice, John Roberts (a ruling could come at any time). James, who spent much of August and September doing interviews for the likes of CBS, NBC, and the Washington Post, was once again a plaintiff in the Oregon case. He had again become a full-time spokesperson for death with dignity. next page