By Claire Simons of Portland, Oregon. Claire describes herself as "an advocate for the dying." She was the press person for the 16 patient-plaintiffs in Gonzales v. Oregon and attended oral arguments at the US Supreme Court.
As Bill Maher said, "assisted suicide isn't just for those sprout-chewing liberals up in Oregon".
But Bill... it isn't "suicide".
Last week, the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) adopted value-neutral language for describing practice under Oregon's Death With Dignity Act (DWDA). DHS will now use the functional term "physician assisted death" on its website and in all future reports. The language replaces the term "physican asssited suicide" used in past DHS reporting.
The Dignity Act clearly states: "Actions taken in accordance with ORS 127.800 to 127.897 shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law." The new language honors the intent and values of patients who access the DWDA.
Charlene Andrews of Salem, the 16th patient-plaintiff in Gonzales v. Oregon would say "yippee!" Char told the National Press Club:
"Please do not call it suicide, that is an insult to my fight against cancer. With cancer, we know when there are no treatment options. I think it is much more spiritual to be around your loved ones, know that they are there, and be conscious about when it is the end."
Char devoted her final years to clarifying the public's perception between suicide and a terminally ill patient's choice to hasten death. She understood the importance of language in framing the national debate on Oregon's landmark law. She died peacefully surrounded by her loved ones on August 2, 2006 without obtaining medication.
On Thursday, Compassion & Choices of Oregon commemorates 9 years of careful stewardship of Oregon's assisted dying law by honoring an Oregon heroine. Charlene Andrews' daughter Sue Spengler will accept the award in memory of her mother's legacy.