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What is Washington's Death with Dignity Act?

Washington law provides a mechanism for helping to assure that one's end-of-life wishes are followed. The state's Death with Dignity Act allows adults with terminal illnesses, with less than six months left to live, to ask their doctor to provide them with medication that they will self-administer to end their life.

In order to receive such medication, a person must meet certain conditions. In order to qualify for this medication, a person must be a resident of the state, a competent adult and be afflicted with a fatal disease that will cause them to die within six months.

Qualified persons may use a form provided by the state Department of Health, which must be signed and dated and executed before two witnesses. Witnesses may not be a relative, a person who is entitled to any part of the patient's estate, the owner of the medical center where the person is receiving medical care or the person's attending doctor when the form is executed.

A physician or pharmacist's participation is entirely voluntary. The physician does not have to be with the patient when the medication is taken. Health care facilities, if written notice is provided to the public and its staff, may prohibit a physician from participating in this act.

Patients are not required to notify their families of their request. Their doctor, however, is required to advise that the person seeking the medication let their relatives know of their intent.

The process requires the patient to initially ask for such medication orally, followed by a request in writing, followed by another oral request after 15 days. When the second oral request is made, the person's doctor is required to offer the person the chance to withdraw that request. The person's doctor must wait a minimum of two days between the date that the request in writing is executed and the date in which he or she prescribes the medication.

Qualified patients may withdraw their request in any manner and at any time. Medication prescriptions cannot be written unless the attending physician offers the person a chance to take back their request.

Health care providers are protected from civil, criminal or professional licensing liability for good faith participation with this law. Also, a professional organization or health care provider cannot impose sanctions.

Long-term care planning involves difficult decisions. An attorney can assist with this planning and help with protecting loved ones.

Source: Washington State Department of Health, "Death with Dignity Act frequently asked questions," Accessed May 21, 2017

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