by: BARBARA SHERMAN - Ken and Peggy Stevens have lived in their rural Sherwood home for 20 years, and all 12 of their children graduated from Sherwood High School.
Ken and Peggy Stevens can probably truthfully say they have never had a dull moment in 30 years of marriage: When they married, he had six kids, she had four, and they had two more of their own; she served on the Sherwood School Board for 11 years; and he has not only been active as a radiation oncologist for 47 years but has become a tireless advocate against assisted suicide.

In 1997, Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act that allows terminally ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.

Ken’s passion against assisted suicide is exemplified by his experience in the summer of 2000 when a patient, who wanted to die, came to him. Ken, who is part of a group of doctors that formed Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation and became its president, described the situation in the following letter that was published in the Boston Globe on Nov. 3, 2012, when Massachusetts voters were considering passage of an assisted-suicide bill:

“I am a cancer doctor in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal. Oregon’s assisted-suicide law applies to patients predicted to have less than six months to live. This does not necessarily mean that such patients are dying.

“In 2000, I had a cancer patient who had been given a terminal diagnosis by another doctor of six months to a year to live. This was based on her not being treated for cancer. At our first meeting, she told me that she did not want to be treated and that she wanted to opt for what our law allowed - to kill herself with a lethal dose of barbiturates.

“I did not and do not believe in assisted suicide. I informed her that her cancer was treatable and that her prospects were good. But she wanted ‘the pills.’ She had made up her mind, but she continued to see me.

“On the third or fourth visit, I asked about her family and learned she had a son. I asked her how he would feel if she went through with her plan. Shortly after that, she agreed to be treated, and her cancer was cured.

“Several years later, she ran into me in a restaurant and said, ‘Dr. Stevens, you saved my life.’

“For her, the mere presence of legal assisted suicide had steered her to suicide.”

In an article published in a 2011 issue of the Patients Rights Council newsletter, Ken wrote about a patient whose doctors found 13 tumors in his liver and more than 70 throughout his lungs. He was told he had a very advanced cancer and would probably be dead within 1 1/2 months.

He took a less-stressful job at work, and he and his wife sold or gave away an estimated $20,000 worth of his tools and books and almost sold their home. When he continued to feel well, he had more tests done, and a month after the original diagnosis was given a non-terminal diagnosis.

Seven years later, when Ken wrote the article, the man was still doing fine but missed the tools he had sold at a great discount or given away because of his “terminal” diagnosis.

“After the original diagnosis, he and his wife made very hasty decisions that financially cost them dearly,” Ken wrote. “Since they live in Oregon, that terminal diagnosis would have qualified him for doctor-prescribed suicide... Tragically, he could have ended his life early and before he received the correct non-terminal diagnosis.

“In doing so, he and his family would have missed out on the past seven productive and healthy years, and even more years in the future.”

The Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation has been active in promoting better end-of-life care and helping patients realize they have choices, despite some insurance companies opting to only pay for assisted suicide and not life-saving treatment.

But even before assisted suicide became law in Oregon, Ken had to deal with this issue when his first wife Shannon was diagnosed with lymphoma and was eventually told that the chemo and radiation were not working.

“Her doctor subtlety said that he could write an extra-large prescription for pain killers, and when we were going to the car, she said, ‘He wants me to die,’ and it really devastated her,” Ken said.

Two weeks later, Shannon died peacefully and comfortably at home on her own terms.

“She did not have a painful, lingering death in a hospital,” said Ken, who estimates he has treated more than 10,000 patients during his 47 years of practicing medicine.

Ironically, Ken and his second wife, Peggy, are both from the same town in Utah, although they did not meet until they both lived in the Portland area. Ken actually was born in Tahiti in October 1939, where his parents were Mormon missionaries.

“France fell to the Nazis in September 1939, and Tahiti was a French colony. We left when I was 10 months old and moved to Logan in northern Utah,” said Ken, who went on to graduate from Utah State University and then the University of Utah Medical School in 1966.

From 1967 to 1970, Ken did a three-year residency in radiation oncology at what is now Oregon Health & Science University, and as the Vietnam War was being fought at that time, he served in the Army Medical Corps from 1970 to 1972 in San Francisco treating active-duty service personnel and their dependents who had cancer.

by: BARBARA SHERMAN  - Ken Stevens, shown with his wife Peggy in his home office, works three days a week as a radiation oncologist treating patients at Oregon Health & Science University and Tuality Medical Center.
In 1972, Ken headed back to Portland and joined the OHSU faculty, working there full-time until 2005, and he is the former chair and professor emeritus of the Department of Radiation Medicine.

He and Peggy went on a medical mission to Australia for 1 1/2 years at the beginning of 2006, and for the past four years, Ken has taught at the UO Medical School and also works three days a week at OHSU and Tuality Medical Center in Hillsboro.

Meanwhile, Peggy, after being born in Logan, Utah, grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho; she went to college in both Idaho and at Portland Community College, got married and had four children; the couple later divorced, and after her ex-husband got cancer, Ken treated him before he died in 1983.

Ken and Peggy married in June 1983 after dating only a short time. He was invited to speak at a medical convention in Venice, Italy, and thought that would make a great place for a honeymoon. Instead of asking Peggy to marry him, he asked her if she had a passport — which she did not.

She got a passport, and they were married two days before leaving for Venice, “and we came back from our honeymoon to 10 kids,” Ken said.

Ken was already living in Sherwood, and the couple has been there ever since.

They first had a daughter and then a son, and in 1993 when their son was going into first grade, Peggy ran for a seat on the School Board and went on to win two more four-year terms. “I left when he graduated from high school and we were making plans to go to Australia,” Peggy said.

Before serving on the School Board, she had volunteered a lot in the kids’ schools and at one point was president of the Sherwood High School Moms and Dads Club.

“Hopkins was the only elementary school when I went on the board, and I worked on the bond to build Archer Glen,” Peggy said. “But that meant boundary changes, and people didn’t want to be separated from their friends and neighbors or have their kids change schools. They did not want new subdivisions. People wanted the School Board to stop growth — it was a very contentious time.

“Our last eight kids went to Hopkins, and the parents came up with the idea of Hopkins becoming a K-through-second-grade school and Archer Glen being a third-through-fifth-grade school, but that would have meant that students living a block or two from Archer Glen would go to Hopkins, a school farther away.”

Another issue was that Sherwood’s boundaries were changing and in some cases shrinking, which meant less tax revenue. The area of Wilsonville where Dammasch State Hospital used to be is now a huge subdivision called Villebois, and that area used to be in the Sherwood School District until Sherwood lost it to Wilsonville.

Still, despite all the hassles, Peggy had a vested interest in the school system, noting that at one point, the Stevens had children in pre-school, elementary school, middle school and high school plus college all at the same time.

Peggy laments the loss of programs in the school district, noting that when their kids were at Hopkins, “every one of them took fifth-grade band, and now it’s not offered at the elementary level,” she said. “Class sizes have increased, and the offerings have diminished. However, the parent volunteer force is huge — the parents have really stepped up to the plate.”

For most of their marriage, the Stevens’ lives were consumed with their kids, who now range in age from 48 to 27, going through school, with Peggy noting, “We have had one or more kids in college since we got married,” and Ken joked, “That’s why I’m still working.”

Peggy continued, “All 12 graduated from college, our youngest son is in medical school, and they all have good jobs or their spouses do.”

The Stevens, who are active in the LDS church in Sherwood, love hosting family get-togethers at their home, and fortunately, six of their kids live in Oregon, while three live in Utah, two live in Texas, and one lives in Seattle. The couple has 34 grandchildren ranging in age from 5 months to 20 years, and there is one more on the way.