Tremors from last month's major medical and moral earthquake in Oregon soon will be felt across the nation. Three years ago, Oregon voters approved legalizing doctor-assisted suicide by a 51 to 49 percentage margin (CT, Jan. 9, 1995, p. 54). The Death with Dignity Act, also known as Measure 16, allows any person over age 18 who has been judged to have fewer than six months to live the right to obtain a prescribed lethal dose of medication.

Since then it has been an uphill battle for assisted suicide opponents. Relying on a legal injunction to halt implementation of the ruling, a coalition of the Oregon Catholic Conference, Oregon Right to Life, Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, and more than 30 other organizations formed to repeal Measure 16.

This year, the Oregon legislature returned the issue to voters as Measure 51, which would have repealed the earlier law. In a special election on November 4, voters once again determined their state should be the first to legalize doctor-assisted suicide. By a spread of 20 percentage points, Oregon has opened the door to a major shift in health-care ethics.

"Frankly, we're scared," says David Stevens, executive director of the 10,000-member Christian Medical and Dental Society based in Bristol, Tennessee. "We're scared that a shroud of secrecy will cloak this practice so that it will be impossible to expose abuses or reverse course."

LAW IN EFFECT: Only hours before the voters went to the polls, the three judges of the Ninth Circuit Court took steps to lift the injunction that had been blocking the law for nearly three years. Typically, the original judge who issues an injunction lifts the decision, a process that takes weeks to complete.

On election day, Oregon's deputy ...

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