Death with Dignity National Center

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Death with Dignity National Center
Formation 1993
Type Education, defense and advocacy
Headquarters Portland, Oregon

Death with Dignity National Center (DDNC) is a 501(c)3, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization headquartered in Portland, Oregon that has led the legal defense of and education about Death with Dignity laws throughout the US for 20 years. DDNC helped write and defend the nation’s first successful Death with Dignity law, in Oregon, protecting the right of persons with terminal illness to control their own deaths. The organization is affiliated with the Death with Dignity Political Fund, a distinct and separate 501(c)4 entity responsible for the political defense of Death with Dignity laws and the promotion of these initiatives in other states around the U.S.


"The mission of the Death with Dignity National Center is to promote Death with Dignity laws based on our model legislation, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, both to provide an option for dying individuals and to stimulate nationwide improvements in end-of-life care.[1]


In 1993 Oregon Right to Die, a political action committee, was founded to draft and pass Oregon's Death with Dignity ballot measure 16.[2] The following year the Oregon Right to Die PAC (ORDPAC) campaigned successfully for the passage of Measure 16 in Oregon; 51% of Oregon voters approved the Death with Dignity ballot initiative which created the Oregon Death With Dignity Law (DWD) allowing those who are terminally ill to hasten death in consultation with their physician and under strict safeguards, making Oregon the first U.S. state and one of the first jurisdictions in the world to officially do so. Subsequently, the Oregon Death with Dignity Legal Defense and Education Center (ODLDEC), the forerunner to the Death with Dignity National Center, a 501(c)(3) organization, was founded to defend the voter-approved law. In 1997, Oregon Right to Die Political Action Committee successfully defeated Measure 51, an attempt to ban Death with Dignity in Oregon, by a margin of 60% to 40%.

After the successful collaboration of the Death with Dignity Alliance starting in 1997 three of the organizations in the alliance—Oregon Death with Dignity, Oregon Death with Dignity Legal Defense and Education Center, and Death with Dignity National Center—merged and became Death with Dignity National Center and Oregon Death with Dignity Political Action Fund in 2004.[3][4] Another alliance member, Compassion in Dying, later merged with End-of-Life Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) and became Compassion and Choices.

In 2000 DDNC led the effort on Question 1, the Death with Dignity campaign in Maine. The measure lost by a narrow margin, 51% to 49%, with only a 6,000 vote difference statewide. In 2001 DDNC partnered with activists in Vermont to establish Death with Dignity Vermont, and in 2002 DDNC launched an effort in Hawaii to pass Death with Dignity legislation through the legislative process. In 2003 ODLDEC is renamed the Death with Dignity National Center (DDNC).

From 2001–2006 DDNC defended Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and his successor Alberto Gonzales who attempted to block DWD by authorizing federal drug agents to prosecute doctors who help terminally ill patients die. In January 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in the case of Gonzales v. Oregon, that former Attorney General John Ashcroft overstepped his authority in attempting to prosecute Oregon’s physicians and pharmacists.

In 2008 DDNC successfully led the coalition for Yes on I-1000, Washington State’s Death with Dignity campaign, to a 58%-42% win. Washington’s Death with Dignity law went into effect in March 2009.

In 2011, DDNC partnered with Patient Choices Vermont to help pass Death with Dignity legislation through their legislature. Vermont Governor Shumlin signed the Vermont Death with Dignity bill into law in 2013. In the meantime, DDNC established Dignity 2012 to pass Death with Dignity legislation in Massachusetts. The issue made it on the November ballot and was narrowly (51% to 49%) defeated.


Death with Dignity is a 501(c)(3) organization governed by a Board of Directors. Current members include:

  • George Eighmey, JD, President, was an Oregon state legislator in 1997 when opponents to the Death with Dignity Act were working to dismantle the citizen's initiative passed in 1994 and was instrumental in blocking the opponents in the legislature. After the law was implemented, George took up a leadership role as the executive director of Compassion in Dying of Oregon which later became Compassion & Choices of Oregon. After 12 years helping terminally ill patients navigate Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, George retired in 2010.
  • Carol Pratt, PhD, JD, Treasurer, is a practicing attorney in the Portland office of an international law firm, K&L Gates LLP. Carol’s legal practice focuses on FDA law, health law and bioethics. Before becoming a lawyer, Carol was a neuroscientist and conducted research focusing on spinal cord function for about 20 years at the National Institutes of Health, Purdue University and the Dow Neurological Sciences Institute. Carol was living in Portland, OR in 1994 when Oregon passed by ballot initiative the nation’s first, pioneering Death With Dignity law. The Death with Dignity campaign and subsequent legal challenges to Oregon’s law inspired her to become a lawyer, which she did in 1998. Carol is the author of the article, Efforts to Legalize Physician Assisted Suicide in New York, Washington, and Oregon: A Contrast Between Judicial and Initiative Approaches — Who Should Decide? 77 (4), Oregon Law Review, 1027-1124 (1998). She joined the board of the Oregon Death with Dignity Legal Defense and Education Center in 2000 and has continued since then as a board member of the Death with Dignity National Center.
  • Eli D. Stutsman, JD,[5] Secretary – Eli Stutsman is a practicing attorney in Portland, Oregon. He co-authored the Oregon Death with Dignity Act in 1993 and served as the lead political and legal strategist during the 1994 campaign to pass the law and again during the 1997 campaign to defeat its repeal by the State Legislature. Stutsman successfully defended the Death with Dignity law in the first federal court challenge spanning 1994 to 1997. See Lee v. State of Oregon,107 F.3d 1382 (9th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 927 (1997). He later prevailed against the United States Attorney General and the Drug Enforcement Administration in a second round of federal court litigation spanning 2001-2006, in which he won an injunction against the United States Attorney General.[6][7] on behalf of a physician and a pharmacist, both threatened with criminal sanctions. On January 17, 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the physician, pharmacist, and the State of Oregon. See Oregon v. Ashcroft, 192 F.Supp.2d 1077 (D.Or. 2002), 368 F.3d 1118 (9th Cir. 2004), Gonzales v. Oregon, 126 S.Ct. 904 (2006). Stutsman co-founded Oregon Right to Die in 1993, the political action committee that passed the Oregon Death with Dignity Act into law. He was the founding president of the Oregon Death with Dignity Legal Defense and Education Center in 1995 (which later merged with the Death with Dignity National Center), as well as the Oregon Death with Dignity Political Action Fund, founded in 2001. In 2007, Stutsman authored the Washington Death with Dignity Act, passed into law by Washington voters on November 4, 2008.
  • Steve Telfer, Officer, is a long-time lobbyist working on state and national levels and participating in a variety of state and local government task forces. Telfer has served as Chair of the Oregon Public Employees' Retirement System and Vice Chairman of the Oregon Investment Council. He was also a member of the Oregon Workers' Compensation Management Labor Advisory Committee. Telfer joined the healthcare field in 1987 as Vice President of Good Samaritan Hospital and Health Center in Portland. He also played a prominent role in the creation of Legacy Health System.
  • David J. Mayo, PhD, Officer, was Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Associate of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. He also served on the Board of Directors of the American Association of Suicidology and co-authored Suicide: The Philosophical Issues. He received his undergraduate degree in philosophy from Reed College, and his PhD in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. He began teaching at the University of Minnesota in 1966 and became interested in bioethics in 1974, when he participated in a six-week summer seminar in bioethics sponsored by the Council for Philosophical Studies. In 1985 he was a Visiting Exxon Fellow in Clinical Medical Ethics at the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. During leaves from his position at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, Professor Mayo has taught at Macalester College in St. Paul, and at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and held Visiting Scholar appointments at both Macalester College and the School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University. He has served on the boards of directors of the American Association of Suicidology, the Midwest Chapter of the Hemlock Society, and the Death with Dignity Political Action Fund. His work in bioethics has focused largely on issues related to death and dying, privacy, and AIDS. Mayo is widely published on the subjects of death and dying.
  • Midge Levy, ACSW, Officer, has a background in medical and geriatric social work, at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, and social work administration, at a Group Health Cooperative Home Care and Hospice program. She worked on Initiative 119, Washington State's Death with Dignity Campaign, which would have legalized physician-assisted dying for qualified, terminally ill patients. Levy was a consultant to the National Association of Social Workers on their End of Life Policy developed in 1993. Ms. Levy is also Vice President of Compassion & Choices of Washington.

Prominent former board members include

  • Betty Rollin has been an NBC News correspondent, New York Times best selling author and Death with Dignity activist. She's written five books including First, You Cry (1976) about her experience with breast cancer and Last Wish (1985) in which she recounts helping to hasten her mother's death.
  • Timothy E. Quill, M.D. is a Professor of Medicine, Psychiatry, and Medical Humanities at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.[8] He is the author of several books on end-of life, including Caring for Patients at the End of Life: Facing an Uncertain Future Together (2001), and A Midwife Through the Dying Process: Stories of Healing and Hard Choices at the End of Life (1996), and co-editor, with Margaret Battin, of Physician-Assisted Dying: The Case for Palliative Care and Patient Choice (2004).

Political activism[edit]

Through its different organizational structures over the years, Death with Dignity National Center has played a central role in defending and upholding Oregon's Death with Dignity law,[9] culminating in the Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Oregon.[10][11][12]

The organization has assisted with efforts to pass Death with Dignity laws in other states such as Maine in 2000,[13] Hawaii in 2002, and Massachusetts in 2012.[14][15][16]

The most recent successful efforts led to the voter approved Washington Death with Dignity Act in 2008,[17] the first-ever death with dignity law[18] passed through a State legislature, in Vermont.,[19] and the California End of Life Option Act in 2015.

In all, Death with Dignity Center has been instrumental in drafting, passing, promoting, and defending all existing Death with Dignity statutes in the U.S.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About Death with Dignity National Center". 
  2. ^ "The Physician-Assisted Suicide Oregon Trail". Final Exit. 
  3. ^ "Death with Dignity movement history". Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization. 
  4. ^ "Death with Dignity National Center chronology". Death with Dignity National Center. Archived from the original on 2010-12-25. 
  5. ^ "Eli D. Stutsman Death with Dignity Biography". Archived from the original on 2011-07-10. 
  6. ^ Greenhouse, Linda (February 23, 2005). "Justices Accept Oregon Case Weighing Assisted Suicide". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ "Supreme Court of the United States Brief for the Respondents" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 14, 2009. 
  8. ^ "University of Rochester Medical Center". 
  9. ^ "Arguments in Opposition of Ballot Measure 51". Oregon State Elections Division. 
  10. ^ "Full text of the Supreme Court's decision" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United States. 
  11. ^ Lane, Charles (2005-02-23). "Justices to Hear Challenge to Oregon Assisted-Suicide Law". The Washington Post. 
  12. ^ Lewin, Adrienne Mand. "Supreme Court Upholds Oregon Assisted Suicide Law". ABC News. 
  13. ^ "Ballotopedia Maine Physician-assisted Deaths Question One". 
  14. ^ Arakawa, Lynda. "Bill on Assisted Suicide Advances". The Honolulu Advertiser. Archived from the original on 2010-12-25. 
  15. ^ Pang, Gordon Y.K. "'Death with Dignity' Bill Shelved". The Honolulu Advertiser. Archived from the original on 2010-12-25. 
  16. ^ "History of the 2002 Near Win". Hawai`i Death with Dignity Society. Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. 
  17. ^ "Yes on I-1000 Contributors". National Institute on Money in State Politics. 
  18. ^ "Vermont Act No. 39. Relating to patient choice and control at end of life" (PDF). 
  19. ^ "Assisted suicide: Vermont governor signs 'death with dignity' measure". 

External links[edit]