Friday, May 22, 2009

Wash. state has first death under new suicide law

Posted: May 22, 2009 12:43 PM EDT

Assisted suicide law takes effect, opinions clash
Washington voters pass initiative allowing medically assisted suicide

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A 66-year-old woman from Sequim is the first person to die under the state's new assisted suicide law.

Linda Fleming died Thursday night after taking drugs prescribed under the "Death with Dignity" law that took effect in March.

Compassion & Choices of Washington announced the death Friday morning.

The organization says Fleming was diagnosed last month with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

The new law was approved in last November's election with a nearly 60 percent vote. It is based on Oregon's measure which passed in 1997. Since then, about 401 people have used the Oregon law to end their lives.

Under Washington' law, any patient requesting fatal medication must be at least 18 and mentally competent. Two doctors must certify that the patient has less than six months to live.

The state Department of Health says it has received six forms from pharmacists saying they have dispensed life-ending drugs.

The passage of the Washington State Initiative 1000, the "Death with Dignity Act," has required hospitals and healthcare providers to make decisions about whether they will participate under the Act. The Act is clear that no provider, including Deaconess, is required to assist a qualified patient in ending his or her own life and requires hospitals that do not allow participation to provide public notice.

"After thoughtful conversations with our medical staff, board of trustees and patients, Deaconess Medical Center has chosen to not participate in the ‘Washington State Death with Dignity Act,'" said Shelley Peterson, Deaconess' Chief Nursing Officer. "However, we do believe that the passage of this act by Washington voters is a call to improve end of life care. We also believe that whether or not to participate in Death with Dignity is a decision for providers and their patients. Therefore, we will not interfere with decisions made in private clinics on the Deaconess campus."

Deaconess says it will continue to provide compassionate, high quality care to all patients. Any patient wishing to receive life-ending medication while a patient at the hospital will be assisted in transfer to another facility of the patient's choice, assuring continuity of care.

"All providers at Deaconess will continue to respond to a patient's questions about life-ending medication with compassion and without judgment. Deaconess believes our providers have an obligation to openly discuss the patient's concerns, unmet needs, and feelings about dying and end-of-life care. Providers will continue to seek to learn the meaning behind the patient's questions and help the patient understand the range of available options, including but not limited to comfort care, hospice care and pain management. Ultimately, Deaconess' goal is to help patients make informed decisions about end-of-life care," said Peterson.

Valley Hospital and Medical center also chose not to participate in the act.

Previous Coverage
Two prescriptions filled for WA assisted suicide

APRIL 22, 2009

SEATTLE, Wash. - State health officials say two prescriptions have been filled for life-ending drugs under Washington's new assisted suicide law.

Health Department spokesman Tim Church said Thursday he could not provide any details about the people considering suicide. The department has received two forms from pharmacists saying they have dispensed the drugs that people say they want to use to end their lives.

The department has not received any forms certifying that a person has committed suicide under the state law that took effect in early March.

Church says the people who filled a prescription for life-ending medication have as long as they want to take the medication or can change their minds and never take it.

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