TIME

Long before the world knew of Brittany Maynard’s wrenching decision to end her own life at 29 rather than continue treatment for terminal brain cancer, Eli Stutsman, an Oregon lawyer, began meeting with a group of physicians and businesspeople in Portland who shared his belief that the terminally ill should be able to decide how and when to die. The group started small, meeting first in public libraries, then graduating to a church and eventually a small office space. By 1993, they hammered out what would become the state’s Death With Dignity law, the first in the United States to give people with months to live the right to access lethal medication.

Then, as now, it was a polarizing idea. Earlier efforts to pass similar measures had failed in California and Washington.

“We were being hit with these overheated arguments, mostly from the Catholic Church,” Stutsman says when his group…

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