Learn More About It's My Decision

What is It's My Decision?

Washington State is taking a progressive, humane step towards improving care for terminally ill adults. A broad coalition of physicians, nurses, hospice patients, family members, organizations and concerned residents has formed the It's My Decision committee to propose a death-with-dignity initiative for the 2008 ballot. This measure will give tremendous peace of mind to terminally ill patients who face the prospect of prolonged suffering at end of life..

What does the initiative do?

This initiative would allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults in Washington State diagnosed with six months or less to live the legal choice to access and self-administer life-ending medication. Eligible patients would have the option to make a voluntary, legal, informed and personal decision with their physician and their families with numerous safeguards to protect the patient from abuse.

Patients in the final stages of a terminal disease would have the choice to end their life with dignity, on their own terms. Currently our state restricts the legal freedom of terminally ill patients who face a lingering and painful death from making this humane, legitimate end-of-life choice. The proposed death with dignity law focuses on patient-directed dying where the patient makes a voluntary, legal, informed, and personal decision about their own body.

Physician aid in dying gives terminally ill adults the peace of mind to know they are in control of their final days. When facing the prospect of agonizing pain, breathlessness, nausea and vomiting, or loss of dignity at the end of life, many patients achieve tremendous peace of mind if they know there is a safe and dignified alternative. Some terminally ill people experience intolerable suffering that cannot be alleviated, even by the most skilled palliative or hospice care. Patients should be able to make a legal choice to request, receive, and self-administer medication in order to die on their own terms.

The initiative includes numerous safeguards for patients:

  1. To participate, a patient must be:
    • At least 18 years old and a Washington State resident
    • Mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself
    • Diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months (applies only to people with diagnosed terminal disease, not physical disability or age)
    • All decisions made by the patient must be entirely voluntary.
  2. Two physicians determine whether these criteria have been met.
  3. The attending physician must inform the patient of feasible alternatives including comfort care, hospice care and pain control.
  4. The application process includes an oral and written request, a waiting period, and objective witnesses.
  5. No one other than the eligible patient may administer the oral medication.
  6. The patient may revoke her/ his decision at any time.

The Washington State initiative mirrors Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” Act. Voters in Oregon passed an identical law by initiative over nine years ago. The text of the Washington initiative is based on the Oregon law, which has proved to be very safe and effective. The State of Oregon has annually released results showing that afterten years with a physician aid-in-dying law, terminally ill patients are benefiting. The State’s 2006 figures show, as in the previous years, all Oregonians who used the law were mentally competent and terminally ill; all made repeated voluntary requests for assistance; and all had access to hospice programs. The 2006 statistics also reveal that many more terminal patients applied for prescriptions (65) than used those prescriptions (46). Peace of mind for the terminally ill is one of the greatest benefits of this law.

Posted on November 9, 2007