End-of-Life Care Advocates Grateful for Significant Improvements to Washington’s Death With Dignity Act

SB 5179, signed by Governor Inslee today, authorizes additional healthcare professionals to offer care, reduces waiting periods for patients who will not survive, and modernizes pharmacy practices
April 1, 2024

Advocates for improving access to medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults across Washington share relief and gratitude today after Governor Jay Inslee formally signed SB 5179, a bill that includes significant improvements to the Washington Death With Dignity Act. The passage of this legislation is a win for terminally ill Washingtonians who deserve equitable access to care at the end of their lives.

SB 5179 passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 53 to 43 in late March after the Senate passed it in a bipartisan 28-20 vote in late February. Now that it has been signed, the Washington Death With Dignity Act will be made more accessible to terminally ill members of underserved communities across the state, whose stories inspired a push for these improvements in recent years.

The Compassion & Choices Action Network and End of Life Washington partnered to advocate for the passage of this bill, and staff from each organization gathered in Olympia today along with lawmakers to celebrate the signing. Gov. Inslee read and signed the bill just before 10:00 am, thanking Sen. Jamie Pedersen and Rep. Skylar Rude for their leadership on this important bill.

wasb5179 signing

Charmaine Manansala, chief advocacy officer for Compassion & Choices Action Network (seated on right), proudly watches Washington Governor Jay Inslee sign SB 5179 into law.

The Washington Death With Dignity Act took effect on March 5, 2009. Under the law, terminally ill, mentally capable adults with six months or less to live are able to request aid-in-dying medication, which they can then choose to self-ingest to peacefully end their suffering. However, many eligible patients have been unable to use the law and receive the peace of mind that it provides as a result of restrictive roadblocks.

“We are so grateful to the lawmakers who voted to pass SB 5179 after listening to the terminally ill advocates and experienced professionals who called for improvements to the Death With Dignity Act.” said Cassandra Sutherland, client services manager at End of Life Washington. “The realities of healthcare in some of the more restricted or rural areas have resulted in devastating barriers to the original bill. SB 5179 retains the important safeguards protecting patients, reflects modern best practices in pharmacy, and offers more equitable access moving forward.”

SB 5179 authorizes advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and physician assistants (PAs) 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, but this greatly reduces barriers to access for many areas of the state that lack comprehensive access to end-of-life care. New Mexico lawmakers enacted a similar provision in their medical aid-in-dying law in 2021.

“Washington state lawmakers have responded to the evidence and data from more than a decade of experience implementing medical aid in dying, and adopted much-needed improvements to ensure the eligible patients are able to access this gentle dying option while maintaining all the core safeguards,” said Kim Callinan, president/CEO of Compassion & Choices Action Network. “We hope other jurisdictions learn from Washington state’s experience and adopt similar reforms so that interested, eligible dying patients are able to avail themselves of the law.”

This legislation also reduces the waiting period between a patient’s first and second oral request for the medication from 15 days to 7 days, as many are unable to survive this period. A 2018 Kaiser Permanente Southern California study showed that about one out of five terminally ill Californians (21%) were dying during the 15-day waiting period in California’s End of Life Option Act; as a result, Oregon lawmakers revised their medical aid-in-dying law in 2019 to allow clinicians to waive its 15-day waiting period if the terminally ill person’s death is imminent, and California lawmakers revised their medical aid-in-dying law in 2021 by reducing its 15-day waiting period to 48 hours.

Finally, the bill would modernize the rules around how and when individuals can obtain their aid-in-dying prescription medication from a pharmacy, allowing electronic prescribing and medications to be shipped instead of picked up in person. Here is link to a summary of SB 5179.

“This bill was introduced in response to devastating stories from those who faced barriers to accessing the law after its introduction in 2009, and it has taken years of dedicated work by many to get us here. With SB 5179, more terminally ill Washingtonians will have a full range of options at the end of their lives with the support of their medical team and loved ones,” shared Callie Riley, Northwest regional advocacy manager for Compassion & Choices Action Network. “We are deeply grateful to our partners at End of Life Washington for their incredible advocacy over the years, on top of the very important work they do supporting Washingtonians at the end of life.”

Ten states have authorized medical aid in dying: 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 more than one out of five U.S. residents (22%) and have decades of combined experience successfully implementing this medical practice.

End of Life Washington is a donor-funded 501(C)3 recognized nationally for its advocacy of choice for the terminally ill. We uphold Washingtonians’ right to the full range of end-of-life options, including death with dignity, through advocacy, education and support. For more information, visit endoflifewa.org.

The Compassion & Choices Action Network is a national 501(C)4 organization devoted to authorizing and defending policies that improve care and expand options for the end of life.

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