Blog Post

Washington’s Death with Dignity Law Claims 47 Lives in First Year

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist The Washington State Department of Health is reporting that 36 people used lethal prescriptions to kill themselves in the first year of the state’s new Death with Dignity Act. The state released its first annual report which shows that a total of 63 people requested the prescriptions. Of those people, 47 have died but only 36 patients have been confirmed as having killed themselves by ingesting the lethal prescription. is reporting that most died within 90 minutes of taking the medication with at least one person living for 28 hours afterward. The status of the remaining 16 patients is “unknown at this time” with officials believing they may have decided against using the medication or are waiting before doing so. Contrary to the most popular argument in favor of assisted suicide – to avoid dying in excruciating pain – only 25 percent of the people who applied for lethal overdoses cited “inadequate pain control or concern about it” as a reason to end their life. The top three reasons cited were “losing autonomy” (100%), “less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable” (91%), and “loss of dignity” (82%). The fear of “losing control of bodily functions” was expressed by 41 percent of those who died with 23 percent citing concerns about becoming a burden to their family and friends. Media such as The Daily Evergreen are trumpeting the deaths as being a victory for patients. “Being terminally ill and faced with months of agony while your body slowly shuts down reduces the human condition to its most vulnerable and undignified state. Knowing you have control over how your life ends would be a very comforting feeling. This law allows people to be masters of their own fate.” Robb Miller, executive director of the pro-euthanasia Compassion & Choices (formerly The Hemlock Society) told that the deaths  show that “a significant number of people are using the law for peace of mind and control, sort of like insurance." Others see problems ahead. Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition told that several indicators in the state’s report, such as the majority of those who died being over 65 with half of them having some form of private insurance, points to possible elder abuse. “These factors are consistent with their being individuals with money. Older people with money are prime targets of abuse,” he said, citing a recent Met Life study. Schadenberg also pointed to a report from Washington attorney Margaret Dore in which she claims the law was written in a way that could encourage abuse of the elderly. In a July, 2009 article she wrote for the Washington State Bar News the elderly may feel pressure to kill themselves from their heirs, who can co-sign as witnesses on the lethal prescription. As written, the law only requires the individual’s consent to receive the prescription, not to ingest it and kill himself. And because no witnesses are required at the time of death, there is no way to prove whether it was the individual himself who took the medication, or whether it was administered, perhaps forcibly, by someone else. “Even if he struggled, who would know? The lethal dose request would provide the alibi,” wrote Dore. “This scenario would seem especially significant for patients with money.” The law also requires prosecutors to treat the individual’s death as “natural,” making it practically impossible for the authorities to pursue suspicions of foul-play. Another troublesome indicator in the report is that only three of the 63 patients who received lethal overdoses were referred for psychological or psychiatric counseling in spite of numerous studies showing depression as being a factor in persons who request suicide. According to the National Right to Life Committee, in one study, of the 24 percent of terminally ill patients who desired death, all had clinical depression. The new law, which passed with 58 percent of the vote, is not about allowing people to die with dignity, Schadenburg said. It’s “about providing death to people, and death-on-demand.” © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®