Suicide Law Sees 63 Apply, 36 Die in 9 Months

Prescriptions for lethal drugs aren't always used, and 3 attempts failed
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 5, 2010 9:12 AM CST
Kathy Sparks, a former hospice nurse who is dying of cancer, and a supporter of the law.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Washington State’s Death with Dignity medical suicide law was enacted a year ago today, and in the first 9 months 63 terminally ill patients were prescribed fatal medication and 36 used it to end their lives. Three people attempted to use the drugs but failed; one vomited them back up, and two reawakened after ingesting the powerful barbiturates. To be eligible, a doctor must determine a patient has no more than 6 months to live.

A government report on the use of the law covers only 2009, but the Seattle Post-Intelligencer estimates that 82 people have obtained the drugs—a process that can take a month or more—since its inception, and 52 of them have died either from the medication or natural causes. Proponents note the disconnect. “A significant number of people are using the law for peace of mind and control, sort of like insurance,” says one. “One doesn't run out and burn one's home down just because you get fire insurance.”

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