Those who are terminally ill with less than 6 months to live no longer have to travel to a foreign country or hope they can find a medical practitioner in Oregon who will look the other way and let them die with dignity. Washington state has become only the second U.S. state to allow assisted suicide, otherwise known as a death with dignity law. It’s meant to stop the prolonging of a life simply because we can — medical technology and advances making it possible.

But we still have a ways to go, as the law doesn’t mandate such prescriptions when requested by a patient. Doctors can opt-out of the law’s requirements, meaning one has to doctor-shop to find a physician willing to write the deadly prescription. In fact, entire hospitals will be banning the practice:

Under the Oregon and Washington laws, physicians and pharmacists are not required to write or fill lethal prescriptions if they are opposed to the law. Some Washington hospitals are opting out of participation, which precludes their doctors from participating on hospital property.

They’ve tried to make the law immune to any manipulations or rash, spur-of-the-moment decisions:

Under the Washington law, any patient requesting fatal medication must be at least 18 years old, declared competent and a state resident. The patient would have to make two oral requests, 15 days apart, and submit a written request witnessed by two people, one of which must not be a relative, heir, attending doctor, or connected with a health facility where the requester lives.

Two doctors must certify that the patient has a terminal condition and six months or less to live.

Some doctors who opposed the measure have argued that a six-month terminal diagnosis is never a sure thing.

Well, sure, but that could be said of almost anything in medicine. There are very few “sure things” in medicine, so trying to hold this particular concern to a higher standard not used elsewhere in medicine is irrational and just silly.

Under Washington state’s “Death with Dignity” law, a patient must:

  • Be at least 18, declared competent, and a state resident.
  • Be determined by an attending physician and a consulting physician to have a terminal disease and be expected to die within six months.
  • Make an oral and written request, signed and dated by the patient and witnessed by two other people, one of whom must not be a relative of the patient, entitled to the patient’s estate, anyone tied to a health facility where the patient is being treated or is a resident, or the attending physician.
  • Repeat an oral request to the attending physician at least 15 days after making the initial oral request. The patient can rescind the request at any time.

Once the request is made, the attending physician:

  • Determines whether the patient is competent and has made the request voluntarily.
  • Informs the patient of alternatives, like hospice care and pain control.
  • Refers the patient to another physician for confirmation of the terminal diagnosis and to ensure the patient is competent and acting voluntarily.
  • Recommends the patient for counseling if the patient is believed to be suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder.
  • Recommends that the patient notify next of kin.
  • Dispenses medication directly, or with the patient’s consent, contacts a pharmacist to fill the prescription.

All I have to add is that “pain control” in most cases is a joke if a patient is in serious pain. The vast majority of doctors underprescribe pain medications to patients in severe pain, for fear of being flagged by oversight authorities for “over” prescribing such medications.

I believe in the right to die with dignity and respect. And sadly, our society has to pass these kinds of laws to make this possible, because much of medicine today values quantity of life over quality.

Read the full story: Washington state to allow assisted suicide

 


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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Mar 2009
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2009). Washington State Allows Assisted Suicide. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/03/02/washington-state-allows-assisted-suicide/

 

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