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Proposal would amend state’s Death with Dignity Act

by caprecord

Doctors would be required to discuss possible cures and life-extending treatments with terminally ill patients when they seek medically-assisted suicide, if a state Senate bill passes.

Voters passed Washington’s Death with Dignity Act in 2008. Since then, patients with less than six months to live are able to end their lives with the help of a doctor.

Now, Sen. Jan Angel is sponsoring a bill to make the first change to the initiative. Current state law requires doctors to discuss pain control, comfort and hospice care when patients request life-ending medicine. Senate Bill 5919 would also require doctors discuss possible cures and life-extending treatments.

It’s a small change – not even a full sentence – but both supporters and critics say it makes a big difference.

Terminal patients need to know about every possible option, Angel told a Senate committee Thursday. “Doctors can be wrong,” the Port Orchard Republican said. “There can be mistakes, there can be new cures. There is hope.”

Dr. Kenneth Stevens says he’s seen patients live for years beyond what other doctors tell them to expect. The Oregon doctor, who testified remotely, is part of Physicians for Compassionate Care, an organization that opposes Washington’s law and others like it. “Life expectancies aren’t exact,” he said.

But critics say the bill would complicate an already-tough process.

Arline Hinckley works with Compassion and Choices, a Seattle-based end-of-life resource center. Death with Dignity, she says, is already used “rarely and cautiously.” Of the 51,000 statewide deaths in 2013, she says 119 were medically-assisted.

Doctors often overstate life expectancy, Hinckley said, and some patients already wait too long to start the process. “To raise the issue of cure is unfair to patient, who is already accepted the fact that they’re terminal,” she said.

No action was taken during Thursday’s hearing.

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