01/17/2006 10:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

I'm Proud to Be from the "Death With Dignity" State of Oregon

I admit that physican-assisted suicide makes me a bit uncomfortable. I have seen some people who were very close to me fight through the pain right up until the very end, and I have great respect for those who chose to fight terminal illness.

But I voted twice for Oregon's assisted suicide, death with dignity law. A law that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld 6-3 today.

The way I see it, today's decision was fraught with more than a little irony. The convincing 6-3 margin for Oregon citizens and against the wishes of the Bush Administration would in all likelihood have been a less convincing 5-3 or even a shaky 5-4 if President Bush had not originally nominated Harriet Miers to fill retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's vacancy. A more confirmable nominee, such as (cough) Samuel Alito might already have been on the Court, with a retired O'Connor not available to cast the vote she did.

But thankfully, she was still on the Court when the decision came down, and will be on the Court for another few weeks until Alito is sworn in.

Thanks, Justice, for the parting gift. A parting gift for the cause of human dignity.

Yes, human dignity.

I voted for the law because I believe that the extent to which a terminally ill person decides to remain and fight, vs. not to remain and fight, is up to that person, that person's family, that person's medical team, and that person's belief system.

I voted for the law because I have seen close up that palliative pain management is not always 100% effective. Those who choose to opt out of this pain through sanctioned means are no less noble than those who choose to fight the pain.

So yes, I am proud to be an Oregonian today. To live in a state where those who appear to have a limited time on this plane of existence can, with the help of wise and caring ones, make their own decisions.

But although today's victory was welcome, it is a hollow one. And not just for the fact that the Supreme Court ruling did not prohibit eventual Congressional action to overturn my enlightened state's Death With Dignity provisions. We have to remain on guard against those who do not only want to control our bodies before our life starts, but exercise control as our lives ebb.

Yet as we Oregonians go forward, seeking to identify teachable moments and actionable strategies in response to this ruling there is so much more than political action and calculation ahead of us. And even more than a calling for this enlightened legislation to be seriously considered by voters in many other states.

This victory should not be an occasion for celebration. It should, as a society, cause us to remember that in the case of so many Oregonians who have chosen to avail themselves of the provisions of the Death With Dignity Act, there is a story of heartbreak, emotional and physical pain, and loss.

For after all, the controversy around Death With Dignity is reflective of the fragility of health and of life itself. And with that, a calling for us to tell the people we love, that we love them. Because you never know.

And with that, this controversy issues a calling for us to improve our health-care system and accompanying technology to provide better prevention, more enlighted pain management, and more effective palliative care.