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Washington State to Allow 'Dignity' Deaths

Washington State to Allow 'Dignity' Deaths

Rachel La Corte

March 02, 2009

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Terminally ill patients with less than six months to live will soon be able to ask their doctors to prescribe them lethal medication in Washington state.

But even though the “Death with Dignity” law takes effect Thursday, people who might seek the life-ending prescriptions could find their doctors conflicted or not willing to write them.

Many doctors are hesitant to talk publicly about where they stand on the issue, said Dr. Tom Preston, a retired cardiologist and board member of Compassion & Choices, the group that campaigned for and supports the law.

“There are a lot of doctors, who in principle, would approve or don’t mind this, but for a lot of social or professional reasons, they don’t want to be involved,” he said.

But Preston said discussions about end-of-life issues between doctor and patient will increase because of the new law, and he thinks that as time goes on more and more doctors who don’t have a religious or philosophical opposition will be open to participating.

“It will be a cultural shift,” he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that it was up to states to regulate medical practice, including assisted suicide, and Washington’s Initiative 1000 was passed by nearly 60 percent of state voters in November.

It became the second state, behind Oregon, to have a voter-approved measure allowing assisted suicide.

In December, a Montana district judge ruled that doctor-assisted suicides are legal. That decision, which was based on an individual lawsuit, is before the Montana Supreme Court. While Montana doctors are allowed to write prescriptions pending the appeal, it’s unknown whether any actually have because there’s no reporting process.

Under the Oregon and Washington laws, physicians and pharmacists are not required to write or fill lethal prescriptions if they are opposed to the law. Some Washington hospitals are opting out of participation, which precludes their doctors from participating on hospital property.

Dr. Stu Farber, director of the palliative care consult service at the University of Washington Medical Center, voted against the measure and doesn’t plan to prescribe lethal medication to his patients for now.

“I am not here to tell people how they should either live their life or the end of their life,” Farber said. “There’s possibly a story out there, in the future, that’s so compelling that maybe I would write a prescription.”

Farber said he would refer patients to Compassion & Choices of Washington, the state’s largest aid-in-dying advocacy group, after talking about how they came to their decision.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 6 years ago


    Well hard call. Who is to say that dignity isn't the main focus. Many times in my career I have seen doctors and hospice teams come in and collaborate on prn orders. Leaving the judgement up to the nurses to alleviate pain. On rare occasions I have seen a standing order for pain meds unless the time of death is near. I would have never thought that you would start the process of aiding in death early with the use of prescriptions.

    Who is then responsible for death? Though this process has the terminally ill patient requesting help in aiding in their death? So in other words the patient decides? Someone writes out the prescription, someone doles it out and someone helps to give the patient their medicine.

    Dignity in death could mean more hospice care and more help at the bedside. I never thought it entailed aiding and abetting in helping them end thier life quickly.

  • 3cb2197_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Finally making progress!

  • 160_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    I am a hospice nurse of 9 years run my own hospice house, and grant wishes to adults with a life-limiting illness and I beleive if the death of someone is inevitable than I agree with Death with Dignity statute. My faith says when its your time its your time and when your time card is punched no matter what that is the pre-destined time.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Account Removed

    almost 6 years ago

    Great article

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