Washington House Approves Bill to Improve Access to Death With Dignity Act
Bipartisan vote shows commitment to ensuring terminally ill adults have the option for a peaceful death
February 25, 2021
(Olympia, WA) Compassion & Choices Action Network and End of Life Washington praised the Washington House of Representatives for passing HB 1141, the Improving Access to Death with Dignity Act. The bipartisan vote was 60-37. The bill is sponsored by Reps. Skyler Rude (R-16th District), Nicole Macri (D- 43rd District) and 13 other cosponsors. The legislation next heads to the Senate.
The bill would remove roadblocks that prevent many terminally ill individuals from accessing medical aid in dying, especially those who live in medically underserved communities.
“This bill improves access to the Death with Dignity law while still ensuring the most important safeguards in the law still exist,” said Rep. Rude during debate on the House floor. “As a Republican, I feel this is an issue of individual liberty. The decision to end suffering early is something that I feel is completely reasonable.”
“Death is inevitable for all of us, but how that passage happens is important,” said Rep. Cindy Ryu (D- 32nd District). “Decreasing the waiting period is an expression of utmost respect for the individual as death is approaching.”
HB 1141 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 the individual’s first and second oral request for the medication 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.
Finally, the bill would modernize the rules around how and when individuals can obtain their aid in dying prescription from a pharmacy, allowing electronic prescribing and medications to be shipped instead of picked up in person.
“The House of Representatives bipartisan support for HB 1141 is consistent with what we’ve learned over 12 years of supporting clients as they legally access Death with Dignity,” said End of Life Washington Executive Director Judy Kinney. “Core safeguards should be maintained and barriers should be removed to reduce unnecessary suffering. HB 1141 eliminates obstacles that our terminally ill neighbors and family members have struggled with in the final days and weeks of their lives.”
“This vote is a positive step forward for terminally ill Washingtonians,” said Compassion & Choices Action Network President & CEO Kim Callinan. “The Death with Dignity Act can provide peace of mind and relieve suffering, but only if qualified individuals can access it. This bill will help to better achieve the original intention of the law. Thank you to all the members of the Washington House who supported this measure.”
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 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.
Medical aid in dying does not allow for the administration by intravenous or other parenteral injection (below the skin) or infusion (insertion into the vein), which are explicitly prohibited by any person, including the doctor, family member or patient themselves.
On Monday January 18, the House committee on Health Care and Wellness held a hearing on the bill, where members heard from Compassion & Choices Action Network President and CEO Kim Callinan and End of Life Washington Board Chairman Robert Free, along with medical providers and individuals who support the bill. Committee members voted 11-4 to approve the bill.
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 nine states that have authorized medical aid in dying include California, Colorado, Hawai‘i, Maine, Montana (via state Supreme Court ruling), New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as well as Washington, D.C. Collectively, these 10 jurisdictions represent one out of five U.S. residents (22%) 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.
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.
Paid for by Compassion & Choices Action Network