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Thursday, March 26, 1998 Published at 12:35 GMT

World: Americas

Oregon woman exercises suicide option
image: [ An Oregon doctor prescribed the fatal dose of barbiturates ]
An Oregon doctor prescribed the fatal dose of barbiturates

An elderly woman from Oregon in the United States has become the first person known to have exercised the option to die under a controversial assisted suicide law.

The woman, a breast cancer victim in her 80s, died after taking a fatal dose of barbiturates prescribed by a doctor, who certified she had less than two months to live.

Oregon is the only state in the US to have passed legislation allowing doctors to assist the terminally ill to seek drugs in order to hasten death.

Before the drugs can be dispensed, the patient must make two requests orally, and one request in writing, after being diagnosed with fewer than six months to live.

Two doctors must confirm the patient's diagnosis and confirm the patient's mental competency.

The woman, whose name was not released, died in her sleep on Tuesday within half an hour of taking anti-nausea medication and barbiturates.

She was in her own home, surrounded by her family and a doctor.

"I am looking forward to it," the woman said in a taped conversation recorded on Sunday.

"Being always active, I never thought I would see myself living on a few more months like this."

The woman's death took place five months after Oregon's 1994 assisted-suicide bill became law, after four years of legal challenges led by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Archbishop of Portland, John Vlazny, who has campaigned to have the law repealed, said he was deeply saddened by the woman's suicide.

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