Modernizing the state’s Death with Dignity Act

Voters approved the Death with Dignity Act in 2008 with support from 30 of 39 counties, including my home county of Walla Walla. When voters approved this law by initiative, we became only the second state in the nation to allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to request a lethal prescription from their doctor. Qualifying patients may take the prescription at a time of their choosing, only by self-ingestion and without assistance from others, which is a key protection in the law.

In the 12 years since the law took effect, it’s been working well for many, but not for others, including terminal patients in the 16th legislative district. There have been zero recorded instances of coercion or abuse and it hasn’t resulted in excess deaths, or other outcomes opponents warned could happen.

But over a decade later, health experts now know that there are too many terminally ill Washingtonians who, while eligible to use the law, are unable to due to waiting periods and lack of provider access.

That’s why I introduced House Bill 1141, which seeks to modernize a few areas of the law that are not working well for patients. While the bill does not expand who is eligible, it does remove some of the burdensome barriers that are leaving far too many patients to suffer without the peace of mind the law intended to give them. 

Many opponents cite religious or moral objections to the practice of medical aid in dying, which is why key safeguards are maintained in my proposal. Hospitals, health care providers and patients are in no way required to participate. Vulnerable populations are also protected by the mental competency requirement, which is found in current law and maintained in my bill. Even depression is a disqualifying factor to use the law.

Here’s what the bill does:

Modernizes the Prescription Process

In the vast majority of the other states where aid in dying is authorized, e-prescribing and mail delivery have always been allowed. House Bill 1141 simply brings our law into line with other states. For those who live in rural areas where pharmacies may not carry the aid in dying medications, this will promote more equitable access. The bill requires that only the patient or an authorized person may sign for the prescription.

Prevents unwanted suffering

The 15-day waiting period between the first and second requests for medication have resulted in at least a third of people who request medical aid in dying suffering needlessly as they wait out the clock. Last year, the Oregon Legislature recognized this unfortunate reality and updated their law to waive the 15-day waiting period if the physician believes the patient will die before the waiting period ends, and four other states are in the process of changing their waiting periods. My bill reduces the waiting period to three days and waives it for patients not expected to survive that length of time.

Allows Qualified Practitioners to Participate in the Law

This bill also recognizes the increased role Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants are playing in medicine today. Many of us see a Nurse Practitioner or PA as our primary provider and have a longstanding relationship with them.  This bill will allow those providers to serve their patients in the attending or consulting provider role, which is not allowed under current law. Those who prefer that both required providers are physicians will still be able to seek that option, but terminally ill residents who live in medically underserved areas and want to take advantage of the expanded provider option will no longer be forced to travel outside their area to seek providers.

After 12 years, it is time to modernize the law to ensure all eligible residents can access this voter-approved option during their last weeks of life.

Rep. Skyler Rude represents Washington’s 16th legislative district, which includes the cities of Pasco and Walla Walla.

As published in The Dayton Chronicle and Prosser-Record Bulletin

State Representative Skyler Rude, 16th Legislative District
122G Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7828 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000