Assisted Suicide Becomes Legal in Washington, While Georgia Makes Arrests

By Eliza Strickland | March 5, 2009 9:10 am

graveyardWashington state’s “death with dignity” law goes into effect today, making Washington the second state in the nation to allow terminally ill people to hasten their own deaths. The state’s voters approved the assisted suicide initiative by a broad margin in a November vote. Modeled closely on a decade-old Oregon law, it allows physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients determined to have six months or less to live [Seattle Times].

In a nod towards the controversial nature of assisted suicide, the new law does not compel all hospitals and doctors to help their patients die. An opt-out provision for hospitals was included, partly for the sake of health care providers affiliated with religious groups like the Roman Catholic Church, though many nonreligious hospitals have also invoked it. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a faith-based decision,” said Julie Petersen, the administrator of one public hospital that will not participate, Prosser Memorial, in a rural area of eastern Washington. “I think it’s probably more a reflection of the community” [The New York Times].

But while the new law was expected to go into practice without much fuss in Washington, across the country in Georgia several “right-to-die” activists were arrested for helping a 58-year-old man kill himself.

The Georgia police arrested four members of a group called the Final Exit Network, which uses volunteers who are not physicians as “exit guides,” contending such efforts are necessary to help those who want to die but live in states where doctor-assisted suicide is illegal…. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says the group may have helped 200 people around the nation commit suicide by sending exit guides to their homes to show them how to suffocate themselves using helium tanks and a plastic hood [AP].

The group says it has a medical committee that evaluates each applicant’s file, but it does not require that a physician be present during the suicide. The group’s freelance methods and looser standards on who should be helped towards death has caused more well-known figures in the right-to-die movement to distance themselves. Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who says he participated in 130 deaths before going to jail in Michigan, has said that assisted suicide must be strictly a medical service, and criticized the Final Exit Network. “They’re doing what they can do within the bounds of circumstance. I understand that, but it is still the wrong way” [AP], he recently told a radio station.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Nick

    Reminds me of Cease Upon The Midnight (CUTM) from William Gibson’s novel Virtual Light, though CUTM was an organization seniors joined willingly so they could commit suicide when their minds went out (i.e. the midnight).

  • bee

    wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of hospitalization? i mean that would waste thousand upon thousands of dollars a year from wasted beds, food and other things, regardless if you knew the patient was going to die. and i also think that the assialiant should be helped to be held responsibe for the assisted suicide.

  • Terry Barnett

    Of the 400 deaths in 11 years of the Oregon law, nearly none occurred in hospitals. Most people died at home.

    Death under the law is not suicide. The Washington Death With Dignity Act (DWDA) expressly provides that exercise of the statutory right to end terminal suffering is not suicide. People who commit suicide want to die. People who use the DWDA do not want to die. They want to live. They only want the right to end suffering, if IN THEIR EXPERIENCE, their suffering becomes worse than death.

    Terry Barnett
    Compassion & Choices of Washington

  • Brian

    Wouldn’t you say that all suicidal individuals are suffering within “their experience”? Suicide is definitely a reflection of one’s suffering but the real question is why is suicide illegal? How many suicides are prevented because it’s a crime? Maybe by making suicide legal there would be a greater opportunity to help those that were suffering decide life was worth living. After all, while death ends ones suffering the finality of it only offers the end of all experience.

  • Joan Gregori

    I’m with you, Terry; but, I think Dr. K is right about some medical input for each individual case.


  • English Student

    I believe that this act will allow people a greater opportunity to end there suffering. It will not only help a person but actually let people know that they do have another option. I have read that most people who choose this way out have private insurance. Do you believe that these people should be allowed assistance with paying for this medication or should they have to pay for it themselves? Just a thought. Also I believe that this form of assisted suicide should only be carried out by the physician and the patient, as it is stated in the law.

  • Stephanie

    My great grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer, he wasn’t even a smoker. He was given six months to live and was told chemotherapy should help… He declined the chemo. My great grandfather lived for three (3) more years… I am not saying that this is the case for all terminally ill patients, but I am saying that something such as death is absolutely unforeseeable. We have no idea what the next day and/or minute will bring us… Assisted suicide should not be an option when there are means out there to survive, that are only out of reach because of how expensive those means and the people who can provide them have the actual audacity to be, when even in that type of death you must pay to do so… Clear your minds and understand that assisted suicide is legal thievery… To feel a dying family member is burden enough to encourage such is completely selfish. Everyone has their day regardless. Including you and you and you and you.

  • http://Discover tirina

    Why can’t people who are mentally ill for more than 30 years end their lives? I have tried every therapy and medication and still suffer. When do the mentally ill get a chance to speak!!!! And if you think our suffering is any less than someone dying of something else thing again. We are tortured every day by our own thoughts and other’s reactions to them. Let me die!!!

  • Stacy

    I think that it is a blessing for the end stages of a terminal illness


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