February 14, 1859 – Oregon Joins the Union as the 33rd State

In August, 1857, Oregon held a constitutional convention to consider statehood, modeling its governing document on those of Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan. It also rejected slavery by three to one, but opposed admission of free blacks by eight to one. (The Oregon Blue Book notes, “In this Oregonians differed little from Thomas Jefferson.”)

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The matter of Oregon’s statehood finally came up in Congress in February, 1858. Southerners opposed a new free state unless Kansas was added as a slave state. Some northerners opposed the ban on free blacks. All opposed assumption of Oregon’s debt from waging Indian wars without having raised taxes to pay for it. Nevertheless, Oregon’s reputedly charming delegate to Congress, Joe Lane, managed to get the bill for statehood through by the slim margin of 114 to 103. President Buchanan signed it on Valentine’s Day. On Saint Patrick’s Day, the news reached Salem, Oregon City, and Corvalis. Oregon is a state founded on holidays.

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In 1994, Oregon became the first U.S. state to legalize physician-assisted suicide through the Oregon Death with Dignity Act (DWDA). Under this law, a capable adult Oregon resident who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness by a physician may request in writing, from his or her physician, a prescription for a lethal dose of medication for the purpose of ending the patient’s life.

Despite the measure’s passage, implementation was tied up in the courts for several years, finally reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. In Gonzales v. Oregon (546 U.S. 243), the Court, by a 6 to 3 ruling on January 17, 2006, affirmed the right of Oregonians to to govern their own end-of-life, pain management and palliative care choices.

According to the Oregon Public Health Division, as of January 14, 2013, a total of 1,050 people have had DWDA prescriptions written and 673 patients have died from ingesting medications prescribed under the DWDA since the Act was passed in 1997. Of the 77 DWDA deaths during 2012, most (67.5%) were of persons aged 65 years or older; the median age was 69 years. As in previous years, most were white (97.4%), well-educated (42.9% had a least a baccalaureate degree), and had cancer (75.3%).

Oregon also passed a law forbidding the use of tanning beds by anyone under 18 except with a doctor’s note, as of January 1, 2014. (A majority of states now regulate the use of tanning facilities by minors. You can see a state-by-state list of tanning regulations here.)

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The flag of Oregon is the only two-sided state flag. On the front is the escutcheon from the state seal showing thirty-three stars, for the number of states in the Union when it joined, and on the reverse is a gold figure of a beaver, the state animal.

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