More than a decade ago — Nov. 4., 2008, to be exact — Washington state voters approved the Death with Dignity Act, which allows terminally ill adults seeking to end their life to request lethal doses of medication from medical and osteopathic physicians. The act further states terminally ill patients must be Washington residents who have less than six months to live.
The language is clear and simple. Yet, there is very little clear or simple about terminal illness and the taking of one’s life.
It’s a messy, complex process that is fraught with gut-wrenching emotions. And the process of physician-assisted suicide can be extremely complex and challenging. In fact, access to medical assistance for the purposes of suicide can be extremely limited.
That was the case when Walla Walla resident Jon Coffeen sought help to end his life in his final stages of Parkinson’s disease.
Union-Bulletin reporter Sheila Hagar wrote about that experience last year. She interviewed Coffeen’s wife, Donna about their journey to use the Death with Dignity Act to end Jon’s life.
This brought the issue to state Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, who has since introduced legislation to study how the law is working and its unintended consequences.
That’s a reasonable approach. Whether one believes physician-assisted suicide should be available for the terminally ill or that it’s wrong, the reality is that it is the law — and that law should work for Washingtonians.
“As it stands, current law isn’t enough,” Donna Coffeen said this month while testifying in favor of Rude’s proposal in Olympia. “Debilitating diseases are becoming more common. Many want to be able to use this law. There needs to be alternatives for people like my husband.”
Rude’s legislation, House Bill 2419, mandates the University of Washington to conduct a study and report on the barriers associated with Washington resident’s access to the Death with Dignity Act.
The report would be submitted to the Legislature and governor to determine if action needs to be taken to amend current law.
“Death is a personal event,” Rude testified before a House committee this month. “Unfortunately, the Death with Dignity Act is inaccessible to many individuals who would like to use it, like with Mr. Coffeen.”
A thorough study of the law and its application in Washington state for the past decade is a necessary step in determining what steps need to be taken to make sure the Death with Dignity Act works as intended.