Compassion & Choices Action Network and End of Life Washington Urge Lawmakers to Pass Bill Improving Washington Death With Dignity Act

February 18, 2022

Legislation would remove barriers to access for terminally ill adults 

(Olympia, WA)  Today, Compassion & Choices Action Network and End of Life Washington urged members of the Washington House Committee on Health & Long Term Care to approve ESHB 1141, which would improve access to Washington’s Death with Dignity Act and the compassionate practice known as medical aid in dying.

Medical aid in dying is currently authorized in ten states and Washington, D.C. It offers mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live, the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they may decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable.

Today, the committee heard powerful testimony from residents, care advocates, and practitioners who support this legislation to address barriers to accessibility under the law. More than 50 individuals signed up to testify.

Judy Kinney, Executive Director of End of Life Washington (EOLWA) shared the ways in which her nonprofit care organization has seen patients suffer because of the issues this bill addresses. End of Life Washington reports that 25% of their clients die within the 15-day waiting period currently required. She also notes that 70% of those seeking services from EOLWA need help to secure a prescribing provider in their area.

“The Improving Access to Death with Dignity Act, ESHB 1141, is needed because too many eligible people who are taking steps to follow through on the law’s current guidelines are not able to access the peace of mind and body autonomy that the Death with Dignity Act was designed to provide,” Kinney said. “These improvements are informed by over a quarter century of experience nationally.”

ESHB 1141 is a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Health and Wellness Committee member Skyler Rude (R-Walla Walla), who was introduced to the issue by a constituent whose loved one suffered because of issues accessing this compassionate medical practice.  ESHB 1141 would remove roadblocks that prevent many terminally ill individuals from accessing medical aid in dying, especially for residents who live east of the Cascades and those whose primary care providers are not among those authorized to prescribe under the current law.

This legislation would allow Advanced Practice Registered Nurses or Physician Assistants to act as either the attending or consulting medical provider for individuals who want to access the Death with Dignity Act. A physician would still have to be one of the other providers in either case. The legislation would also reduce the waiting period from 15 days to 72 hours, and allow the attending and consulting providers to waive the waiting period if the terminally ill individual’s death is imminent. Additionally, the bill will modernize the rules around how and when individuals can obtain an aid in dying prescription from a pharmacy.

The bill would not change the eligibility requirements under the existing law. Individuals must still be mentally capable adults with six months or less to live, must be able to make the request on their own behalf, must be educated by their physician on all other end-of-life care options, and if they choose to take the medication, they must be able to self-ingest it.

Powerful words were shared by testifier Jennifer Parrish Taylor, who spoke of her mother’s death and the importance of centering patients in the conversations around this  compassionate medical practice.

“My mother, a dedicated public servant in vocational rehabilitation services, died of terminal uterine cancer. We were fortunate to live in a state where one can elect death with dignity, though she chose not to. Fundamentally that’s the point,” Parrish Taylor shared. “Many in opposition of this bill have valid concerns about the medical community, which I share. But to deny me the choice to elect how I want to deal with a potential terminal diagnosis is hypocritical. To deny my autonomy, is to deny me personhood. All communities deserve a choice and I urge you to pass ESHB 1141.”

Advocates now wait for the Health & Long Term Care Committee members to vote on the legislation.

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.

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, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as well as Washington, D.C. Collectively, these 11 jurisdictions represent one out of five U.S. residents (22%) and have decades of combined experience successfully implementing this medical practice.

Compassion & Choices
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