Questions remain as Washington Death With Dignity law goes into effect

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- With less than two weeks remaining before the Death With Dignity Act goes into effect in Washington state, health care providers and patient advocates are busy explaining how the measure will work.

State officials on Friday, Feb. 20, finalized the guidelines for implementation of the new law. It begins March 5, a mere 120 days after Washington voters approved it Nov. 4 after a bruising campaign.

"There's a lot of scrambling going on by a lot of different organizations, including our own," said Robb Miller, executive director of patient advocacy group Compassion & Choices of Washington.

Washington is only the second state in the nation to pass such a law, which opponents see as physician-assisted suicide. It is similar to the Oregon measure that went into effect in 1998 after protracted legal battles.

Approved as Initiative 1000, the Washington measure allows terminally ill adults who are competent and have been told by their doctors they have six months or less to live to ask for a prescription for a lethal dose of medication, which they must be able to take themselves.

But the new law also allows health care providers and pharmacies to opt out, meaning they don't have to participate.

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