Witnessing a person’s final breath is said to be one of life’s most intimate experiences. These moments are equally as emotionally touching as when they have been chosen and scheduled by the dying person.
UVU students and faculty had the opportunity on Sept. 19 to watch “How to Die in Oregon,” a documentary covering the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon as part of this year’s Ethics Awareness Week.
Directed and produced by Peter D. Richardson, the exposé follows the journey of different families and individuals struggling with the decision of whether or not to purposefully end their lives.
Following the screening, Richardson participated in a Q&A session with Nancy Rushforth, professor of Integrated Studies at UVU; Peggy Battin, Philosophy professor from the University of Utah; J. Mark Olsen, Philosophy professor at UVU and Michael Popich, Philosophy professor from Westminster College.
Blake Griffiths, a junior studying Economics and Finance, felt a negative reaction toward the act, but his stance wavered while he watched the real life stories of Cody, Randy and others.
Other audience members’ resolve was strengthened, as well. Lisa Williamson, UVU academic adviser, already felt the decision to live and die lies with the individual. After watching the film, she felt more committed to similar legislature being passed in Utah.
The controversy surrounding the Death with Dignity Act is seen as a moral issue with religion being brought in at every turn. The act allows adults with sound mind to choose the timing of their own death after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Oregon was the first state inside the U.S. to enact a law protecting the right to choose death. According to Oregon’s official government website, 96 patients were prescribed medicine to die and 59 of those patients ingested and died from the medicine, accounting for only .002 percent of total deaths in Oregon in 2010.
Since the law was passed in 1997, there have been 525 deaths under the Death with Dignity Act. With such low numbers of actual usage under the law, it is “having the option [that] remains important,” Battin said.
There are regulations set to discourage abuse, including a process of two separate diagnoses, an application and a prescription for the medicine that terminates life.
“We need to think about, talk about tough topics,” Williamson said. “That’s what university education is all about: being exposed to new ideas, new people, new belief systems and other ways of being in the world.”