HOW WASHINGTON STATE'S LAW

DIFFERS FROM THE OREGON DEATH WITH DIGNITY ACT

   
    Because the drafters of the Washington State Initiative 1000
had the decade of experience with the Oregon Death with Dignity Act,
they were able to make a few improvements.

    Here are the texts of these two nearly-identical laws:

The Oregon Death with Dignity Act

The Washington State Death with Dignity Act



    "competent" replaces "capable"

    In the definitions of both laws,
these technical terms are given the same definition.
Is the patient competent or capable of making medical decisions?
Probably the Oregon law has used the better expression,
because when dealing with life-ending decisions,
we want to know whether the patient is still capable of making medical decisions.
"Competent" has a number of other definitions in law,
which could easily be confused here,
even tho the definition is given at the beginning of the law.



    The cause of death is the underlying disease.

    Only the Washington law has this provision.
There was confusion in Oregon about how deaths under the Death with Dignity Act
were to be recorded in the official death certificates and statistics.
Sometimes in Oregon, such deaths were recorded as "suicide",
even tho both versions say that these deaths are not suicide or assisted suicide.

    Since the voters of Washington approved Initiative 1000,
every official record within the state of Washington
will have to record the cause of death as the underlying disease,
not the fact that the patient took a lethal drug
to shorten the process of dying.

    This is a definite improvement.



    The state of Washington may not refer to actions under this bill
as "suicide" or "assisted suicide".

    This continues the clarification of the above change.
And it makes sure that no state document will mistakenly use such terms,
which have been widely used in the mass media.



    Unused portions of lethal drugs should be disposed of properly.

    This provision was added for the Washington version.
And it does safeguard others in the household
from accidental or suicidal uses of the life-ending chemicals
obtained by prescription only for the patient
who decided to end his or her life under this law.

    But probably some rule or provision should be created
to prevent the accidental or suicidal use of the life-ending drugs
by someone else in the household
before the lethal chemicals are used by the intended patient.



    More details about reporting cases that used the law.

    The Washington version goes into more detail
about how deaths under this law must be reported.
Such matters were left to administrative rule in Oregon.



    The closing sections of the Washington law are highly technical,
with multiple references to other parts of Washington law.

    These sections should not have been submitted to the voters.
They should be enacted by lawmakers,
who will take the time to look over their impact on existing law.
None of these provisions have much to do with the right-to-die.
And some of them expire very soon
if not re-enacted by the Washington lawmakers.

    It seems to this reviewer that these were attempt
to sneak special provisions past the voters
because the drafters know that there is probably not a single voter in Washington
who will take the time to look up the impact of these provisions
on existing Washington state law.
The voters voted "yes" because they want the right-to-die.
But they did not know that they were also enacting
other special provisions they had no interest in reviewing.

    Other states that follow these patterns
should create shorter bills
and make certain that each and every provision
is directly related to the medical procedures being permitted.



    The Washington bill makes no improvements
that are likely to make it any more successful
than the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

    In Oregon, even after a decade, the Death with Dignity Act
is only being applied to one death in a thousand.
This means that thousands of other life-ending decisions
are now being made outside the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.
And these other deaths are not being subjected
to any of the public safeguards in the Oregon law.

    The drafters of the Washington initiative
missed their opportunity to improve the law
so that more people would have better deaths in Washington state.

    The millions of dollars spent to get this initiative approved by the voters
might better have been spend
establishing hospice programs in the state of Washington
where patients could claim their right-to-die under present law.
These new hospice programs could be governed
by the philosophy of the right-to-die movement,
in contrast to the more conservative philosophy
usually found in the background of traditional hospice programs.

    If only one dying person in a thousand is helped by this initiative,
was it worth the cost in dollars and time?
How much would it cost to achieve each voluntary death?



    The Washington law carries forward
a number of minor technical problems in the Oregon law.

    The drafters of the Washington initiative missed their opportunities
to correct a few technical problems with the Oregon law.
Without thinking deeply, they just copied the Oregon provisions,
including all of the flaws.
If they had searched the Internet,
they would have discovered this list of flaws years ago.



Go to a few other laws or proposed laws,
with their embedded safeguards highlighted.


Created August 26, 2008; Revised 11-19-2008; 4-6-2012


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An Existential Philosopher's Museum










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