Peter Goodwin, a Portland physician who campaigned for an Oregon law that allows patients with terminal conditions to end their lives, died March 11 at his home after using lethal chemicals obtained under the initiative he championed. He was 83.
A spokesman for the organization Compassion and Choices confirmed the death; the group advocates aid-in-dying laws and supports patients and families facing the end of life.
Dr. Goodwin battled a rare brain disorder for six years and was losing his ability to move. “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 in an interview with the Oregonian last month.
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.
Dr. Goodwin campaigned for years to enact the law. He said it spurred medicine to focus attention on the needs of the dying, with more palliative care and hospice.
Dr. 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, Dr. 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.”