End of Life
Legalized by a vote of the people in 2009, Washington State’s physician-assisted suicide law permits people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness to request a lethal dose of medication from a physician.
Washington State’s assisted suicide law requirements include:
Based on Catholic Teaching and concern for the common good, WSCC opposes assisted suicide, noting also that it is dangerous public policy. It places vulnerable people at risk for abuse as the law provides inadequate safeguards:
Assisted suicide is legal in three other states: Oregon, Vermont and California. In two other states, Montana and New Mexico, court rulings have created uncertain legal situations. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that rights granted under the state’s living will law form the basis for permitting doctors to intentionally prescribe lethal drug overdoses for the purpose of assisted suicide. However, the court did not officially legalize assisted suicide but said that, if charged with assisting a suicide, a doctor could use the patient’s request as a defense. In New Mexico, while statutes continue to list assisted suicide as a fourth-degree felony, the practice was made legal through the courts in early 2014. The 2nd District Court in Albuquerque ruled that New Mexico doctors may legally prescribe lethal drugs to assist terminally ill people with suicide. Recently a state appellate court overturned the district court decision. The matter is pending before the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Since 1997, at least 991 people in Oregon have died by lethal medications. In the seven years for which data on assisted suicide in Washington State is available, more than 651 people have committed assisted suicide (Washington has about twice the population as Oregon). Since Vermont made assisted suicide legal in 2013, at least two people are reported to have died as a result of ingesting a lethal prescription. Assisted suicide became legal in California in 2016.
Even though reporting is required under the assisted suicide laws, it is impossible to know the actual number of deaths from assisted suicide because there is no government oversight or investigation. Because the information collected by Washington State’s Department of Health is not categorized as public record, researchers are prevented from making an independent assessment of how the law is being implemented. The state only provides summarized data in an annual statistical report.