Washington State: Legalised Physician Assisted Suicide in 2018.

What does the latest report from Washington State tell us?

Washington State has published its report on the operation of its 2008 Death with Dignity Act in Calendar Year 2018.

In that year 267 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 251 of them had died, 203 following ingestion of the supplied lethal drugs, 29 without ingestion and 19 from causes unknown – they may or may not have died as a result of ingesting the lethal drugs supplied to them. For the remaining 16 recipients the department had, at the time of reporting, received no notification of death.

The number of people who were dispensed lethal drugs in 2018 (267) has increased by 25.9 per cent, compared with 212 people in 2017. The number of people who died from ingesting the lethal drugs has increased from 164 to 203 people, representing an increase of 23.7 per cent.

In order to grasp a longitudinal understanding of how Washington’s Death with Dignity law is operating it is necessary to look back on previous reports.

In 2010, for example, (the first report to cover a 12 month period) 59% of participants died due to ingesting the prescribed lethal dosage. In 2018, 76% of participants died due to ingesting the prescribed lethal dosage, representing a significant increase in the number of people who choose to end their own lives prematurely, under the terms of the act.

The report features a table, listing the end-of-life concerns of the participants who died. The top four concerns were loss of autonomy, less able to engage in enjoyable activities, loss of dignity and a fear of being a burden of family or care givers. While 51% of participants cited the latter concern, only 38% listed fears about pain and pain control as a key concern.

Forty per cent of participants were aged between 65 and 74, while 25% were aged between 75 and 84. As in previous years, the vast majority of participants had cancer, with 75% of participants in 2018, suffering from the disease.

50% of participants who died had known their physician for 25 weeks or less.