New Washington bill looks to make changes to state’s Death With Dignity law

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A new bill in the Washington legislature is trying to make major changes to an existing assisted suicide law known as the Death With Dignity Act.

Currently, people with less than six months to live can choose to end their life early. It has been this way since 2009. Supporters of the bill’s changes believe it’ll keep people from suffering.

During public testimony in the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee, supporter Karen Beisner says her mom’s condition in December 2021 became terminal with no hope for recovery.

“She was not afraid of dying, but she was afraid of the way in which she would die and she did not want any treatment to prolong her life,” Beisner said.

She says they didn’t hear about the assisted suicide option for some time and by then, her mom was not lucid enough to self-ingest the medication. The current law says the patient needs to give the lethal medication to themselves.

“Watching her suffer for so long, nobody should have to go through that when they know there’s no possibility to recover,” she said.

Under the current law, people who want to end their lives have to get a terminal diagnosis from two physicians. The substitute bill would allow registered nurse practitioners and some physician assistants to give those diagnoses as well.

The law also says people have to wait 15 days between their first and second request for the lethal medication. The new bill would cut that back to 72 hours.

“There’s no time for patients to reconsider potentially to provide their full and informed consent or perhaps change their minds to fully consult with loved ones,” said Conrad Reynoldson, a Washington Civil and Disability advocate.

“Seventy-two hours does not give adequate time for appropriate discussion and intervention for vulnerable patients who make rash decisions out of fear, depression, embarrassment or other reversible or transient and psychological concerns,” said Sharon Quick, a concerned citizen.

Dr. Jessica Kaan, a Vancouver physician, testified that those stuck in the waiting period continue to suffer.

Also in this bill, the medication can be mailed to someone.

In 2020, the Washington Department of Health says 340 people got the medication and 252 took it. Ninety percent of the people were enrolled in hospice care.

The bill has already passed the House. It’s currently in committee before it heads to the Senate floor for a vote.

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