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Advocacy Groups Vow to Continue Efforts to Improve Access to Washington’s Death With Dignity Act

Washington Senate session ends without a vote on bill to ensure greater access to medical aid in dying to medically underserved communities

(Olympia, WA)  Compassion & Choices Action Network and End of Life Washington expressed disappointment that the Washington Senate failed to advance ESHB1141, the Improving Access to Death with Dignity Act. The bill did not receive debate or a vote in the full Senate, despite the House previously passing the bill on February 25 with a bipartisan vote of 60-37. The bill was sponsored by Reps. Skyler Rude (R) and Nicole Macri (D).

The legislation was set to remove roadblocks that currently prevent many qualified terminally ill individuals from accessing medical aid in dying, especially those who live in medically underserved areas and those whose illnesses progress too quickly to survive the law’s 15-day waiting period.

ESHB 1141 would have amended the Death with Dignity Act to allow Advanced Practice Registered Nurses or Physician Assistants to act as either the attending or consulting medical provider for individuals who wanted to access the law, reduced the waiting period between requests for the prescription from 15 days to 72 hours, and allowed the attending provider to waive the waiting period if the terminally ill individual’s death is imminent. The bill would have also modernized the rules around how and when individuals can obtain their aid in dying prescription from a pharmacy by allowing electronic prescribing and home delivery.

“While this result is not the one we were hoping for, we are grateful to Reps. Rude and Macri for their leadership on this bill and for the work of our dedicated advocates” said Kim Callinan, President and CEO of Compassion & Choices Action Network. “This bill’s common sense changes to the Death with Dignity law would have made a huge difference for those seeking access to a peaceful death. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners at End of Life Washington to ensure this bill will be considered again next year.”

“This legislation was intended to reinforce the right of Washingtonians to a dignified death, without barriers,” said Bob Free, board president of End of Life Washington. “Ours was the second state in the nation to adopt a Death With Dignity law in 2008, and EOLWA is proud to have worked for decades to help terminally ill residents achieve a death aligned with their values and priorities. We value our collaboration with the national organization Compassion & Choices and look forward to continuing our work together to ensure passage of this bill in next year’s legislative session.”

The Death with Dignity Act was approved by Washington voters in 2008 and took effect in 2009. In twelve years of use in Washington and a combined decades of implementation in other states, there have been no documented instances of abuse or coercion associated with medical aid in dying.

ESHB1141 would not have changed the eligibility requirements under the existing law. Individuals must still be mentally capable adults with six months or less to live, must make the request on their own behalf, must be educated by their physician on all other end-of-life care options, may be allowed to withdraw their request or decide not to use the medication and must be able to self-ingest the medication.

The ten states that have authorized medical aid in dying include California, Colorado, Hawai‘i, Maine, Montana (via state Supreme Court ruling), New Jersey, New Mexico (signed into law on April 8, 2021), Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as well as Washington, D.C. Collectively, these 11 jurisdictions represent more than one out of five U.S. residents and have decades of combined experience successfully implementing this medical practice.

The Compassion & Choices Action Network is the largest national 501(C)4 organization who is exclusively devoted to authorizing and defending federal and state policies that improve care and expand options at the end of life. For more information visit compassionandchoices.org/action-network

End of Life Washington is recognized nationally for its advocacy of choice for the terminally ill. We uphold Washingtonians right to the full range of end of life choices, including Death with Dignity, through advocacy, education, and support. For more information, visit endoflifewa.org.

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