What is the Washington Death with Dignity Act?

Posted on: Mar 5, 2019

In 2008, Washington became the second state to adopt the “Death with Dignity Act.” Under this act, medical doctors and osteopathic physicians must prescribe terminally ill patients lethal doses of medication upon request. Of course, there are restrictions to the law, one of which is that a patient must have only six months or less left to live. The purpose of the law is to allow terminally ill patients to exercise their right of self-determination and pass with dignity (hence the name) and in a peaceful manner, rather than suffering a long and drawn out death.

Death with Dignity Requirements in Washington

Also referred to as “the right to die,” death with dignity is a progressive and humane approach that allows terminally ill individuals to die on their own terms. Some people who reject the law refer to the right to die as “assisted suicide,” but many people—including lawmakers, healthcare providers, patients, and patient family members—agree that “suicide” is not an appropriate term in these particular instances. “Suicide” is generally an act committed by someone who does not wish to continue to live, whereas those who enact their right to die want to live but cannot do so—at least, not without severe pain and discomfort.

Terminology aside, Washington has certain requirements in place for those who wish to request a lethal dose of medication. Per Washington law, a patient must meet the following requirements:

  • A resident of the state of Washington;
  • At least 18 years of age;
  • Diagnosed with a terminal illness that will result in death within six months; and
  • Mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions.

Those are not the only requirements a terminally ill patient must meet, however. If a person meets the above requirements, the law requires the following to occur before a doctor may prescribe the lethal medication:

  • The patient must make two verbal requests to his or her doctor, and the requests must be made at least 15 days apart;
  • The patient must also submit a written request, which he or she must sign in front of two qualified adult witnesses;
  • The prescribing doctor and one other qualified healthcare provider must determine that the patient is of sound mind to make such a request;
  • If the doctor feels the patient’s judgement is impaired, he or she must order a psychological evaluation;
  • The prescribing doctor and one other qualified healthcare provider must confirm that the patient is, in fact, terminal;
  • The prescribing doctor must inform the patient of all of his or her alternatives, including medications that may help relieve the pain and help the patient spend the remainder of his or her days in comfort;
  • The prescribing doctor must encourage the patient to notify next of kin of his or her decision; and
  • The prescribing doctor must offer the patient an opportunity to withdraw his or her request before prescribing the medication. 

If a patient decides to go through with the right to die process, he or she must administer the medication on his or her own without assistance. Any person who aids in the administration of the medication may face criminal charges.

Want to Know More?

If you have been diagnosed with a terminally ill disease in Washington State, you may want to learn more about your right to a death with dignity. Reach out to organizations, such as End of Life Washington https://endoflifewa.org/dwd/ for support. It also is important to ensure your affairs are in order. Contact Elder Law Group PLLC, to learn more about your options and your rights.