Since Washington’s Death with Dignity Act took effect in March, 2009, the number of patients using it to acquire lethal medication, and the number of doctors prescribing it, has grown slowly but steadily.
In 2010, the first full year for the law, which allows adult residents of Washington with six months or less to live to request lethal doses of medication from doctors, 87 patients filled the prescriptions, written by 68 different doctors.
Last year, 121 people filled the prescriptions, which were written by 87 different doctors, according to the annual report released Thursday by the state Department of Health.
As has consistently been true throughout the years, the vast majority of the patients had cancer, were white, non-Hispanic, had at least some college education, and had private or public insurance. Nearly all reported to their doctors concerns about loss of autonomy and dignity.
Dr. Tom Preston, a retired cardiologist who has written several books about assisted dying, said he is disappointed that more doctors aren’t prescribing for their patients. As he does in his books, Preston advises patients to talk to their doctors early in their disease process, because many patients wait too long.
The law requires a series of steps and waiting periods, including forms patients and doctors must complete and which must be filed with health department, which monitors compliance with the law.