Washington State – legalised physician-assisted suicide in 2016.

Deaths from PAS show a 15.7 per cent increase on 2015

Washington State has published its report on the operation of its 2008 Death with Dignity Act in Calendar Year 2016.  In that year 248 people received lethal drugs, under the terms of the 2008 Act, for self-administration.  By the end of the year the Washington State Department of Health had been notified that 240 of them had died, 192 following ingestion of the supplied lethal drugs, 36 without ingestion (presumably from natural causes) and 12 from causes unknown – they may or may not have died as a result of ingesting the lethal drugs supplied to them.  For the remaining 8 recipients the Departmemt had, at the time of reporting, received no notification of death.  The number of deaths from ingestion of lethal drugs (192) represents a 15.7 per cent increase on the number (166) reported last year for 2015.

The numbers of deaths shown in the bar chart at Figure 2 of the report need to be interpreted with care.  They show how many ‘participants’ (ie people in receipt of lethal drugs) are known to have died in each year from all causes – not just from physician-assisted suicide (PAS).  To find data on the latter it is necessary to look in the body of the reports for the years in question.  They also include updated numbers from earlier years – ie people who receive lethal drugs in one year and take them (or die from other causes) in subsequent years.  So far as can be discerned from successive annual reports, there seems to be an increase in the proportion of recipients of lethal drugs who use them to take their own lives in the same year.  The report on Year 2010 (the first complete reporting year) showed 59 per cent of recipients as having ended their lives in that year, whereas the latest report shows 77 per cent as having done so in 2016.  

The latest report confirms that participants are predominantly the elderly.  It reveals that 168 (70 per cent) of recipients of lethal drugs were aged 65 or over.  It also shows, as previous reports have shown, that fear of being a burden on family, friends or caregivers is a significant reason (cited by 51 per cent) for wishing to end their lives.  The top reasons given are fears of losing autonomy or dignity and being less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable.  As in previous years, pain comes well down the list.