What we know about physician-assisted death from Oregon, by the numbers

Debbie Ziegler
Debbie Ziegler holds a photo of her daughter, Brittany Maynard, as she receives congratulations from Ellen Pontac, after a right-to die measure was approved by the Assembly in Sacramento.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Oregon was the first state to allow patients with terminal illnesses to request medications that would end their lives.

Though other states have since adopted similar laws, Oregon remains the best guide for what to expect in California when physician-assisted death becomes legal in the state Thursday.

Here are some statistics about who has taken advantage of Oregon’s aid-in-dying law since it took effect in 1998:

991 people

The number of people who’ve died from taking lethal medications in Oregon between 1998 and 2015, the latest year for which data is available. Almost every year, more people die this way. In 1998, 24 people died from taking lethal medications, compared with 218 last year

554 people

The number of people who got a prescription for a lethal medication from a doctor but never took it. Officials said many died from their underlying illness or a complication of that illness. Supporters of physician-aided death say that giving patients the option to end their suffering, even if they never use it, provides comfort and relief.


Of those choosing to take a lethal medication, the percentage who said one of the reasons was losing autonomy. That was the reason most often given, followed by 90% who said they were worried about not being able to engage in activities that made life enjoyable and 79% concerned about loss of dignity.


The percentage of those choosing aid-in-dying who had cancer – the most common illness among these patients. Other illnesses included HIV/AIDS, heart disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and chronic lower respiratory disease.


The percentage of people who died after taking lethal medications in Oregon who had at least some college education. Those who opted for physician-aided death tended to be more educated than the general population.

46 days

The median time between a patient’s first request for a lethal medication and his or her death.

6 people

The number who regained consciousness after ingesting such a medication.

1 person

The number of African Americans who have died from taking lethal medications in Oregon. In nearly 20 years, 97% -- or 953 people -- of those who died this way were white.

Twitter: @skarlamangla

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