Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Better Response Would be To Repeal Washington's Act as a Fraud on the Voters

By Margaret Dore

On November 16, 2011, an article appeared in a Washington State newspaper arguing for expansion of Washington's physician-assisted suicide act to direct euthanasia and to persons without a terminal disease.[1]  The author, Brian Faller, candidly admitted:  "To improve the chances of passage, the Death with Dignity Act was written to apply only to the choices of the terminally ill who are competent at the time of their death."[2]  Now, he shows the other side's true colors.

In any case, this is my response:

Dear Editor:

I am an attorney who has written multiple articles about our physician-assisted suicide act. I am also President of Choice is an Illusion, a non-profit corporation opposed to assisted-suicide. I disagree with Brian Faller that our physician-assisted act should be expanded to include direct euthanasia. A better course would be to repeal that act as a fraud on the voters.

Our assisted-suicide act was enacted as Initiative 1000 in 2008 and went into effect in 2009. During the election, proponents claimed that its passage would assure individuals control over their deaths. The act is instead a recipe for elder abuse. Key provisions include that a patient’s heir, who will benefit financially from his death, is allowed to actively assist him to sign up for the lethal dose. Specifically, an heir is allowed to be one of two witnesses on the lethal dose request form. In the context of a will, the same situation would create a presumption "duress, menace, fraud, or undue influence." (RCW 11.12.160(2)).

There are also no witnesses required at the death. Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for someone else, including an heir, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without his consent. Even if he struggled, who would know?

The idea that our act promotes patient control or individual liberty is untrue. Our act instead puts older people and others in the cross-hairs of abuse. For more information, please see and click on the page for Washington State.

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[1]  Brian Faller, "Perhaps it's time to expand Washington's Death with Dignity Act, The Olympian, November 16, 2011, available at
[2]  Id.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Compassion & Choices Embraces Derek Humphry

Compassion & Choices of Washington has announced that Derek Humphry will be the keynote speaker at its 2011 annual meeting.[1]

Derek Humphry has recently been in the news as a promoter of suicide kits from a company now shut down by the FBI.  According to an article in Oregon's Register-Guard newspaper: 

"A spotlight was cast on the mail-order suicide kit business after a 29-year-old Eugene man committed suicide in December using a helium hood kit. The Register-Guard traced the $60 kit to [the company, which] has no website and does no advertising; clients find [the] address through the writings of Humphry."[2]

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[1]  See current newsletter for Compassion & Choices of Washington, stating:  "Derek Humphry to be Keynote Speaker at 2011 Annual Meeting."  To view the newsletter, go to the following link and scroll down to the lower half of the page:
[2]  See e.g., Jack Moran, "Police kick in door in confusion over suicide kit:  The FBI message to police about the purchase of the gear failed to mention it was bought seven months ago, "  The Register-Guard, September 21, 2011.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Theresa Schrempp Published in King County Bar Bulletin

Dear Editor:

Margaret K. Dore's article regarding Washington's assisted suicide law [Bar Bulletin, July] highlights a troubling disconnect between this statute and the commendable trend in Washington law to recognize and protect elders from abuse.

On the one hand, the Slayer's Statute, RCW 11.84, was recently amended to penalize heirs who financially exploit a vulnerable adult. On the other hand, safeguards for assisted suicide are minimal, far less than the standards demanded for executing a valid will. As Ms. Dore points out, record-keeping by the state appears to consist of the "hear-no-evil, see-no-evil" variety.

Theresa Schrempp
Sonkin & Schrempp, PLLC

To view the letter in the Bar Bulletin, go here (the link may not work for non-bar members):

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Washington Assisted-Suicide Report Lacks Information About Consent

(as published in the King County Bar Association Bar Bulletin, July 2011; for print version, click here.

By Margaret Dore

On March 10, the Washington State Department of Health issued a formal report about our physician-assisted suicide act.1 However, the report does not address whether the people who died under the act did so on a voluntary basis.

Washington's Act

Washington's assisted-suicide act was enacted via a ballot initiative in 2008 and went into effect in 2009.2 During the election, proponents claimed that the act's passage would assure individuals control over their deaths.

The act, however, does not assure such control. For example, the act allows a person's heir, who will benefit financially from the death, to assist in signing the person up for the lethal dose.3 There are also no witnesses required at the death.4 Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for someone else to administer the lethal dose to the person without his consent.

The Assisted-Suicide Report

Statistical Information

The Department of Health report focuses on statistical information. This information states that lethal doses were dispensed to 87 people during 2010. Of these 87 people, 51 are reported to have died after ingesting a lethal dose.5

Physician Reports

The report also includes information about the circumstances of the deaths. For example, the report provides statistics regarding how long it took people to die after ingesting the lethal dose.6
According to the report, the data for these statistics were obtained from an "After Death Reporting Form" completed by the prescribing physician after each death.7 According to the report, however, the prescribing physician is rarely present at the death.8 If that is the case, he or she is necessarily relying on other persons for the data reported.

Patient "Concerns"

The report seeks to document the "concerns" of the people who died, which led to their requesting the lethal dose.9 The data for these concerns come from the "After Death Reporting Form," which lists seven questions to be checked off by the prescribing doctor.10 These choices do not include the possibility of abuse by an heir.11
The report also provides no information as to whether the people who died consented when the lethal dose was administered. In other words, there is no information regarding whether the deaths were truly voluntary.12

Margaret K. Dore is an elder law/appellate attorney in Washington. She is a former law clerk to the Washington Supreme Court and a former chair of the Elder Law Committee of the American Bar Association Family Law Section. Her publications include "'Death with Dignity': A Recipe for Elder Abuse and Homicide (Albeit not by Name)," Marquette Elder's Advisor, Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring 2010, available at For more information, see

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1 Washington State Department of Health 2010 Death with Dignity Act Report ("Report"), issued March 10, 2011, available at
2 Washington's assisted-suicide law was passed as Initiative 1000 on November 4, 2008, and went into effect on March 5, 2009. See RCW 70.245.903.
3 RCW 70.245.030 and .220 state that one of two required witnesses to the lethal dose request form cannot be the patient's heir or other person who will benefit from the patient's death; the other witness may be an heir or other person who will benefit from the death.
4 See Washington's act in its entirety at RCW 70.245.010 et. seq.
5 Report, Executive Summary, at 1.
6 Report at 9, Table 5 ("Circumstances and complications relating to ingestion of medication prescribed under the Death with Dignity Act of the participants who have died").
7 Id. ("Data are collected from the After Death Reporting form"). A blank "After Death Reporting Form" can be viewed at  (last viewed March 10, 2011).
8 According to the Report, the prescribing physician was present when the lethal dose was ingested in just 4% of the deaths occurring in 2010; the prescribing physician was present at 8% of such deaths in 2009. See Report at 9, Table 5.
9 Report at 7, Table 3.
10 See After Death Reporting Form, supra note 7, Question 7.
11 Id.
12 The act provides for self-administration of the lethal dose. "Self-administer" is, however, a specially defined term that allows someone else to administer the lethal dose to the person at issue. For more information, see Margaret K. Dore, "Death with Dignity: What Do We Tell Our Clients?", Washington State Bar Association, Bar News, July 2009. (no longer on line).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Physician-Assisted Suicide in Washington State

By Margaret Dore

Washington's physician-assisted suicide law was enacted via Initiative 1000 on November 4, 2008. The law has since been codified as the Washington Death with Dignity Act, Chapter 70.245 RCW. It went into effect on March 5, 2009.

Regulations can be viewed here. Official forms for the law can be viewed here.  Other official state information can be viewed here.

For legal analysis of the Washington and Oregon Acts, go here.