Washington Legislators Work to Improve Access to Medical Aid in Dying

April 10, 2020

Legislators in the state of Washington approved two bills in the 2020 session to expand access under the state’s Death with Dignity Act, the law that authorizes the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying. Compassion & Choices supported both pieces of legislation, House Bill 1608 and House Bill 2419, and testified in support of House Bill 2419.

Governor Jay Inslee signed HB 1608 into law, but he vetoed the other bill, HB 2419, citing budget concerns caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) as his reason for doing so.

Washington voters approved the Death with Dignity Act by a 16-point margin (58-42%) in 2008. The law allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults with 6 months or less to live the option to request prescription medication they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep if their suffering becomes intolerable. 

Unfortunately, more than a decade after the law took effect, many patients in Washington still find it difficult to access this end-of-life care option. Legislators introduced two bills during this year’s session to address these inequities.

House Bill 1608 ensures that providers can provide medically accurate information related to a patient’s diagnosis and the availability of end-of-life treatments and resources without the fear of retaliation from their employer. The bill passed the House and Senate by substantial margins and was signed into law by Governor Inslee on March 25. The relevant section of the House Bill 1608 related to the Death with Dignity Act is:

“…a health care entity may not…Limit the health care provider’s provision of information about and regarding Washington’s death with dignity act…information about what relevant resources are available in the community, and how to access those resources for obtaining the care of the patient’s choice.”

House Bill 2419 would have funded a $600,000+ study of Washington residents’ ability to use the state’s medical aid-in-dying law, including awareness of the law, burdens imposed by the required 15-day waiting period, provider and hospital participation issues, access to pharmacies and medications, and lack of insurance coverage. 

As a result of the economic crisis brought about by COVID-19, Governor Inslee vetoed this bill on April 3, along with nearly two dozen others, in an attempt to trim the state’s budget. In his message to the state accompanying the veto the governor said:

“Circumstances have changed dramatically…The COVID-19 pandemic is having catastrophic effects on the health and welfare of Washingtonians. It will also have a major impact on the economic health of our state. I have conferred with leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate, and we agree that we must prepare for the effects of the lost revenue that will result from this pandemic. For these reasons I have vetoed…House Bill No. 2419 in its entirety.”

Compassion & Choices commends Washington legislators for their courage and forethought in writing and approving these bills, and we stand ready to work with them in future sessions to continue to improve access to quality care and the options Washingtonians are asking for.

Compassion & Choices
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Patricia A. González-Portillo
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