In November 2008 Washington State voters approved the Death with Dignity Act, codified as RCW 70.245, making WA the second state in the US (Oregon was the first) to allow doctor assisted suicide. Specifically, the Act allows terminally ill adults seeking to end their life to request lethal doses of medication from medical and osteopathic physicians. These terminally ill patients must be Washington residents, at least 18 years of age, have less than six months to live and have been deemed mentally competent to make such a request. Other safeguards prescribed by statute include:
- Statute requires that at least a 15-day waiting period has taken place between the patient’s initial oral request and the subsequent written request.
- A written request which must be signed and dated by the terminally ill patient.
- Written request must be witnessed by at least two people who attest the patient is capable and acting voluntarily, and not being coerced to sign the request.
- At least one of the witnesses shall not be the patient’s attending physician, a relative, or owner, operator, or employee of a health care facility where the patient is a resident or getting medical treatment.
- Even once a written request is made the patient may rescind the request at any time and in any manner.
Attending Physician’s Responsibilities:
- Determine whether the patient has a terminal disease.
- Is capable of making decisions and has made the request voluntarily.
- Inform the patient of diagnosis, prognosis, risk of taking the medication to be prescribed, feasible alternatives including comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.
- Refer the patient to a consulting physician for confirmation of diagnosis and determination patient is acting voluntarily.
- Refer to a mental health professional if the patient may be suffering from a psychological disorder.
- Recommend that the patient notify next of kin.
- Complete all required documents.
Once a request has been approved, it is the patient that administers the lethal dose of medication – not their doctor. For more information pertaining to the Act visit the Washington Department of Health website at: http://www.doh.wa.gov/dwda/ Also, if you are seeking support regarding end of life choices visit ‘Compassion and Choices of Washington’ at the following address: http://www.candcofwa.org/index.html