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Oregon physician behind Death With Dignity dies

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – A Portland physician who campaigned for an Oregon law that allows patients with terminal conditions to end their lives died Sunday after using lethal chemicals obtained under the initiative he championed. He was 83.

Peter Goodwin died Sunday at his home surrounded by his family, said a spokesman for the organization Compassion and Choices.

Goodwin battled a rare brain disorder for six years and was losing his ability to move. He reflected on his life in an interview with The Oregonian last month (
http://bit.ly/Axamvh).

“We just haven’t come to terms with the fact that we’re going to die, all of us, and to make concessions to that is really giving up hope,” he said.

Rather, in his view, when at death’s door, “the situation needs thought, it doesn’t need hope. It needs planning, it doesn’t need hope. Hope is too ephemeral at that time.”

Oregon was the first state to allow terminally ill patients to take their own lives with the help of lethal medications supplied by a doctor, a measure known as the Death With Dignity Act and approved by voters in 1994 and 1997. In 2010, 65 people used it to precipitate their death in Oregon, the highest number since it was enacted. Washington and Montana have adopted similar legislation.

Goodwin campaigned for years to enact the law, and he’s called it his greatest legacy. He said it spurred medicine to focus attention on the needs of the dying, with more palliative care and hospice.

“I was honored to call Peter Goodwin a compatriot and a friend,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, an organization that advocates aid-in-dying laws and supports patients and families facing the end of life. “Our hearts are broken at his loss. The state of Oregon, medicine, and the world have lost a great leader. Most of all, our sympathies are with his family whom he dearly loved.”

Goodwin, born and educated in South Africa, was a family physician at Oregon Health and Science University for more than two decades.

In his interview with The Oregonian, Goodwin said life is unfair, but offered a prescription.

“Be fulfilled,” he said. “In other words, be happy with yourself. Recognize achievements and be proud of them then go on to further achievements. Know what you want to do and do it. Be happy. Know good friends. Be in love.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)