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WA bill aims to increase access to Death with Dignity Act

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In 2008, Washington voters passed the Death with Dignity Act, a measure allowing terminally ill patients to seek physician-guided assistance with ending their lives. Under the current law, only physicians can carry out a dying patient’s request.

A proposed bill making its way through Olympia, ESSB 5179, would allow nurse practitioners to become more involved in the process.

Darrell Owen, a nurse practitioner, spoke in support of the bill before the House Health and Wellness Committee.

“We are already allowed by law to serve as the attending of record for hospice patients,” Owens said. “We admit hospice patients to the hospital, we sign do not resuscitate orders and death certificates, and we prescribe opioids.”

Additionally, the bill would shorten the patient’s waiting period between oral and written request for the necessary medications from 15 days to seven. It would also allow the necessary medications to be delivered or mailed.

Other supporters like Cassa Sutherland say the changes are overdue and would remove barriers to patients accessing the law.

“The barriers to this law disproportionately affect those living in underserved areas of our state, where participating clinicians are few and far between,” Sutherland said.

But critics like disability rights advocate Conrad Reynoldson call the changes a recipe for disaster.

“This would open the door to more patients potentially being pressured and/or coerced, and to quickly pursuing assisted suicide with little chance for a second opinion or to give it further consideration.”

The Senate passed the bill last month. Washington is among nine states, along with the District of Columbia, that have enacted a death with dignity statute.

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