OLYMPIA, Washington, March 30, 2011 ( – Assisted suicide is on the rise in Washington, data released this month by the Washington State Department of Health for 2010 indicates.

The Death with Dignity Act Report is the second released by the state after the legalization of assisted suicide by the voter-approved law that took effect in March 2009.

Assisted suicide drugs were dispensed to 87 patients in 2010, 51 of whom reportedly died after ingesting the drugs.  The data represents a 42 percent rise from the 36 assisted suicide deaths reported in 2009 – although that data only represented 10 months’ time, since legalization only went into effect in March of that year. However, the average number of assisted suicide deaths per month rose from 3.6 to 4.25.

The vast majority of patients requesting a doctor-aided death were “white, well-educated, insured, dying of cancer, receiving hospice care and most concerned about loss of autonomy, dignity and joy in living,” reported American Medical News.  Patients were required to have been judged terminally ill by at least two physicians.

“There are no surprises here,” said Robb Miller, executive director of Compassion & Choices of Washington (formerly the Hemlock Society), an organization that advocates for assisted suicide. “We are seeing a steady increase in the number of participating physicians and a continuation of a very small percentage of dying patients who use the law. About one-tenth of 1% of all people who die in Washington elect to self-administer life-ending medication. It’s a very, very small number.”

However, the American Medical Association, Physicians for Compassionate Care, attorneys, and other critics of assisted suicide continue to question what they say is the “unknown” or missing information from the annual reports. They also say they are concerned about the rising number of assisted suicide deaths reported in Washington and Oregon, the two states that have legalized assisted suicide.

The American Medical Association has rejected assisted suicide because, according to the association, the practice is “fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s role as healer.” 

American Medical News pointed out that data from Washington’s 2010 report indicates a significant gap between the numbers of patients prescribed medication and those known to have died through the lethal ingestion.

While 51 of the 87 were known to have died after ingesting, 15 reportedly died without having ingested the medication, presumably from health complications associated with their condition.  However, of another 6 who died ingestion status was reported “unknown” and the status of the 15 others remained “unknown” at the time of the report.

According to the Physicians for Compassionate Care (PCCEF), the “unknowns” of assisted suicide reports are similar in Oregon.  Issued in January 2011, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act 2010 report has “even more unknown information” than previous reports, said PCCEF.

PCCEF released a statement in January saying that it was “concerned” with “multiple areas” of Oregon’s report, which was released earlier than in the past, and which PCCEF said was “incomplete.” “Because of the hastiness in releasing the report, they (the Oregon Public Health Division) acknowledge that not all information for 2010 has been received by them.” 

While Oregon reported 65 deaths, the report “concedes there may be others,” points out PCCEF, since at the time of the report 15 patients’ information had still not been received.  Two prescribed assisted suicides reportedly failed to result in the death of the patient.  PCCEF lists other “unknown information,” which it said amounts to more than “has ever previously been reported.”

“When such a substantial proportion of important information is unknown, how are Oregonians to know what is really happening with assisted suicides in the state?” they said.

Critics also point out that in Oregon only one of the 65 patients had a psychiatric or psychological referral, while in Washington a mere three of the 87 patients did. Opponents of assisted suicide argue that in most cases the desire for suicide stems from treatable depression, and that many who request suicide would change their minds if the causes underlying their depression were addressed.


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