The Washington State Death with Dignity Act
After much debate, the Washington Legislature finally passed the Washington State Death with
Dignity Act in 2008. The law allows certain physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to
terminally ill patients. Terminally ill patients, according to the Washington State Death with
Dignity Act, are those with six months or less remaining to live, who reside in Washington, and
who are at least 18 years old. Furthermore, patients must be mentally competent to make their
requests. At least two doctors must verify a patient’s mental competence and terminal illness.
The patient must have at least 15 days to change his or her mind after making an oral request.
The patient must make a written request after 15 days. After making the second request, the
patient must make another oral request, and the doctor must give the patient at least two days to
change his mind before writing the prescription. Patients must have impartial witnesses sign their
Once a terminally ill patient complies with all of the statutory requirements as set forth in the
Washington Revised Code, a qualified physician can write a prescription for a lethal dose of
medication. However, although the physician can write the prescription for the terminally ill
patient, he or she has no affirmative legal obligation to do so. Thus, a doctor can decide not to
write the prescription. In this case, it is the patient’s responsibility to find a doctor agreeing to
participate in his or her suicide. Furthermore, the doctor cannot participate in the patient’s
suicide, and the patient must self-administer the lethal dosage of medication.
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