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Doctors prescribed lethal prescriptions for 103 last year under state’s Death With Dignity Act

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Washington physicians wrote lethal prescriptions for 103 patients with terminal illnesses in 2011 under the state’s Death With Dignity Act, the Washington State Department of Health reported Wednesday.

Of the 103 who received prescriptions last year, 94 are known to have died. Seventy of these died after taking the medication. Nineteen died without taking the medication. In five deaths, it is not known whether or not they took the medication. For the remaining 9, it is not known if they have died.

Under the Act, physicians can prescribe–but not administer–lethal doses of medications to adult Washington State residents with terminal illnesses who are expected to have no more than six months to live.

Of the 70 patients who died after taking the medications, 93 percent were at home and 83 percent were enrolled in hospice care at the time.

Number of Death with Dignity Participants and Known Deaths, 2009-2011

Participation in the program increased 16 percent in 2011 from 2010.

Under Washington’s Death with Dignity Act, the Department of Health collects information from patients and providers who choose to participate, monitors compliance with reporting requirements, and produces an annual report.

Among the findings for 2011:

  • Those who died were between the ages of 41 and 101.
  • More than 90 percent lived west of the Cascades.
  • 78 percent had cancer.
  • 12 percent had neuro-degenerative disease, including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
  • 10 percent had other illnesses, including heart and respiratory diseases

Of the 94 participants in 2011 who died, their end-of-life concerns include:

  • Loss of autonomy, 87 percent
  • Loss of dignity, 79 percent
  • Loss of the ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable, 89 percent

Since the law went into effect in 2009, 255 terminally ill patients have received the prescriptions.

To learn more:

End of life resources

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