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Massachusetts would be third state to allow assisted suicide

If Question 2 is approved, Massachusetts would be the third state to enact “Death With Dignity” legislation allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients.

Many questions persist over how the law would be used if passed in the Bay State. The Gazette researched how similar Death With Dignity Acts were applied in Oregon, which has had a DWDA law on the books since 1998, and Washington state, which has had it since 2009. In both states, health departments track the who, what, why and when surrounding the prescription and ingestion of DWDA drugs. There is no uniform way to collect this data, therefore the states provide varying levels of insight.

Oregon

■ Since the law was enacted 14 years ago, a total of 935 DWDA prescriptions have been written and 596 patients have died from ingesting the medication. (Not everyone who receives the drugs ends up taking them.)

■ In 2011, 114 people were written prescriptions for a lethal DWDA drug; 71 took the medication and died. The drugs were prescribed by 62 doctors. During the first year of DWDA, 24 people were prescribed the drug and 16 took it.

■ Last year, people who took the DWDA drug and died were typically age 65 or older (69 percent), white (96 percent), well-educated (49 percent had at least a bachelor’s degree) and had cancer (82 percent).

■ Most of the people who died from the drug in 2011, 97 percent, were enrolled in hospice care.

■ The three most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable, loss of autonomy and loss of dignity.

■ Although 73 people took the DWDA drug last year, only 71 died. There were two people who took the drug and then regained consciousness. These people later died of their underlying illnesses.

■ Of the 71 people who died in 2011, one person was referred for formal psychiatric or psychological counseling as required by law if a doctor suspects a patient seeking a DWDA drug is somehow mentally compromised.

Washington

■ In 2011, 103 people received DWDA prescriptions from 80 doctors. Of the people who were prescribed the medicine, 70 ingested it and died. In the first year DWDA was in effect, 65 people were prescribed the drug and 63 took it.

■ Of the people who took the DWDA drug in 2011, 78 percent had cancer, 12 percent had a neurodegenerative disease, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and 10 percent had other illnesses, including heart and respiratory diseases.

■ Of the 103 people who received DWDA prescriptions in 2011, five were referred for psychiatric or psychological counseling. Studies do not indicate whether these people were later prescribed the drug.

■ For most people, death followed three to 24 weeks from the first oral request for a DWDA drug.

■ Most people lost consciousness within 10 minutes after taking the drug and died within 90 minutes after ingestion.

■ In the three years Washington has had the law, no one has taken the drug and then called emergency services for intervention.

SOURCES: Oregon Public Health Division’s annual Death With Dignity Act report for 2011 and the Washington State Department of Health 2011 Death With Dignity Act Report.

Related

‘Death With Dignity’ question difficult for many to resolve

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Should a doctor be allowed to a prescribe a lethal drug to terminally ill patients seeking to end their lives? This moral dilemma, also known as the proposed Death With Dignity Act or Question 2, is a matter Massachusetts voters will face on the November ballot. If approved, the act would make Massachusetts the third state to allow what some … 0

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