Death with Dignity participation rises in Washington

More terminally ill patients in Washington received prescriptions to end their lives in 2014 than in previous years.

Washington’s Death with Dignity Act allows adults in the state with six months or less to live to request lethal doses of medication from a physician.

Last year, 176 people in Washington received prescriptions for lethal doses of medication – up about 2 percent from the previous year. Of those who received the medication, 170 are known to have died, according to a new report from the Washington Department of Health.

The health department received confirmation that 126 of those who died did ingest the lethal medication. Seventeen did not ingest the medication and the ingestion status is unknown for 27 people.

Those who died ranged in age from 21 to 101 years old; 95 percent lived west of the Cascades (the health department doesn’t provide more specific residence information) and 57 percent were women, according to the report.

Here are some interesting numbers from the health department’s 2014 report:

-109 physicians wrote the prescriptions.

-57 pharmacists filled the prescriptions.

-73 percent of those who died had cancer; 13 percent had neuro-degenerative disease, including ALS.

-92 percent of those who died were white; 56 percent were married.

-92 percent were at home at the time of death.

-94 percent reported to their health care provider concerns about losing the ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable; 89 percent reported concerns about loss of autonomy.

In 2012, 121 people received lethal medication. All 121 are known to have died. In 2013, 173 people received medication (169 are known to have died).

In the act’s first year (2009), 65 people received medication and all but one are known to have died.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at or 360-735-4546.

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