Bill Proposes Changes to Death With Dignity Act

Feb 8, 2017

A bill proposed in the Washington State senate would modify the state's Death with Dignity act.

The current law allows someone with a terminal illness to end their life. It was approved by voters in 2008. Among the requirements of the law, patients must be 18 or older, mentally competent, and certified by two physicians that they have less than six months to live. Patients also must be informed of all other options including palliative and hospice care.

But a new proposal calls for requiring a physician to inform the patient of feasible alternatives, including the treatment for the purpose of cure and the treatment for the purpose of extending the patient's life.

At a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, testimony included that of Marilyn Golden of the Disability Rights and Education Defense fund. She spoke of her former colleague, Oceanographer Richard Radkey who was diagnosed with MS, and who she says was misdiagnosed by his physicians as “terminally ill”. Golden says, “Had assisted suicide been legal, he would have acknowledged that he would have chosen it, and died many years ago, yet with an extremely limiting disability, he went on to have a successful academic career, become a happily married father, and was grateful for the length and varied experiences of his life.”

Golden argued that someone in Radkey’s position nowadays should be informed of his options for extending his life as the bill calls for. Those opposed to the bill included Dr Therese Law of the End of Life Washington group. She testified that giving patients the option to end their lives gives them piece of mind as that option is there, but that about a third never use the option. She says those who qualify for the state’s Death With Dignity act have already exhausted the treatments available for cure. Law says, “And have determined treatment for the purpose of extending life actually translates as treatment for extending misery. These patents have learned something all of us will, there are things worse than death, and their current terminal existence is one of them.”

The records from the State Department of health for the most recent year available, 2015, show that of the 213 participants that year , 202 are known to have died; 166 died after ingesting the medication, 24 died without using the medication.

Thank you to TVW for sound in this story.