Death with Dignity Act
Don James, spokesman for Compassion & Choices
Portland, Oregon, 2005/2007
94, 9 x 113,8 x 3,2 cm
plate: 16,6 x 11,4 cm
In 2001 Don James was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. At the time of this
photograph the cancer had metastasized to the bone. On August 19, 2005, Don exercised
his right to receive a prescription for a lethal dose of pentobarbital (Nembutal).
He was photographed after filling the prescription. The prescription reads: “Take the
entire dose at one time.” Don was adamant about the opportunity to have a dignified
death and to avoid severe pain. He was supported in his decision by Claire, his wife
of 60 years and their four children.
In 1994, Oregon citizens voted to enact the only physician assisted suicide law in
the United States. This landmark law, the Death with Dignity Act, permits physicians
to prescribe lethal doses of medications for people with terminal illnesses who
have less than six months to live. In 2001, former U.S. Attorney General John
Ashcroft issued a directive to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to ban prescription
privileges for and criminally prosecute physicians who participated in Oregon's
Death with Dignity Act.
Ashcroft's directive was placed on hold during the five years it took advocates of
the law to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Don James submitted a declaration to
the Supreme Court because he feared he might lose his right to use Oregon's law. In
2006 in the case of Gonzales v. Oregon, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Oregon.
Don's life ended without taking the medication, shortly after filling his prescription.
From 1998 to 2005, 246 patients have used Oregon's Death with Dignity Act to hasten
Inv. Nr. 2007/76
MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main
Gift of the artist
© Taryn Simon
Photo: Axel Schneider