51 die in first full year of Washington’s right-to-die law

Fifty-one people have died in the first full year under Washington state’s Death with Dignity Act. Figures released by the state health department show that 68 physicians wrote life-ending prescriptions for 87 patients in 2010. Of these 72 died: 51 from the medication and 15 died of their illnesses. Another 15 patients were still alive. In 6 deaths, it was unclear whether the patients had taken the drug.

"There are no surprises here," said Robb Miller, executive director of Compassion & Choices of Washington, a leading euthanasia group. "We are seeing a steady increase in the number of participating physicians and a continuation of a very small percentage of dying patients who use the law. About one-tenth of 1% of all people who die in Washington elect to self-administer life-ending medication. It's a very, very small number."

Critics of the law, however, complained that exact figures are papering over gaps in information about the deaths. ““The published data … is so limited and unreliable that even those agreeing with the policy have qualms regarding the health department’s inability to determine whether the law operates with the full safety and voluntariness its proponents were promised,” said Eileen Geller, of True Compassion Advocates. For instance, of the 72 people who died, the department had only seen 61 of the death certificates.

Serious pain did not seem to be a great concern. Of the people who died, 90% were concerned about loss of autonomy, 64% about loss of dignity, and 87% about losing the ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable. ~ AmedNews.com, Mar 28

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