Terminally ill patients seeking help to end their lives with the aid of a physician shouldn’t have to wait so long to get approval from the state.
That’s the position of Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who said he intends to eliminate barriers to care without removing safeguards in the Washington Death with Dignity Act. His Senate-passed proposal is Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5179.
“One in four people do not live long enough to survive the 15-day waiting period (currently in the law). We talked to people who asked for access to this law as soon as they become eligible and are still unable to complete the process,” said Cassandra Sutherland, client services manager for the End of Life Washington.
ESSB 5179 reduces the required 15-day waiting period to seven days and eliminates the 48-hour waiting period for the written request. It also allows the drugs to be delivered or mailed. To qualify for the act, patients must be mentally competent, residents of Washington, and expected to live six months or less. Two physicians must approve the application. Lastly, patients must be able to self-administer the drug themselves. Pedersen’s bill also allows registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants to administer the program. Under the act, the attending physician must deliver the prescription personally, to pharmacists, or by mail.
“I really believe that this bill is going to help people and help families in our state who are wrestling with very difficult ends to life,” Pedersen said.
The vote on the changes was split 28 to 20 in the Senate.
Sen. Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor, said when he was a senior in high school he sat with his uncle while he was dying and told him he loved him. Although incoherent for a week, his uncle, in a moment of clarity, told Muzzall he loved him back. His uncle passed away the next night.
“It isn’t about taking it away. It’s about honoring the requests of the voters of the state of Washington, and I think that is what’s important. I think having a second thought, having sideboards, having that last moment to decide is important. I know in my life those last moments have, as I said, been pivotal to me.” Muzzall voted against the bill.
Currently, to receive a prescription for the life-ending medication, patients must make an oral and a written request and reiterate the verbal request at least 15 days after making the initial request. The physician must offer the patient an opportunity to rescind the request when they make their second oral request and notify them, they can revoke it anytime.
“The biggest concern I’ve had was overriding the seven days. I didn’t feel like that was appropriate,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima. “I thought about this, I thought about it very hard. I’ve listened to every person that wanted to come and talk to me about this, from doctors to everyday people. I still believe this is the right thing to do. I still support this bill.”