Politics & Government

Tallying Washington state's Death with Dignity Act

TACOMA, Wash. — Thirty-six people are known to have died after taking lethal doses of physician-prescribed medication under Washington's year-old Death with Dignity Act, Washington's State Department of Health announced Thursday.

Friday is the first anniversary of the act, passed by voters in November 2008.

The state's release of statistics, required under the law, covers March 5, 2009, through Dec. 31.

It shows that 63 people received prescriptions for lethal doses of medication under the law. Thirty-six of those are known to have died from the drugs they got, the report says. Nine more of the 63 died during the last year, but the state does not yet know the cause of their deaths, Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer said. At least seven didn't have the chance to take the drugs before they died, the state said.

Of the 16 others, the state said it does not know if they are alive or dead.

Of those that died, 37 had cancer, four had degenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig's disease, four had respiratory diseases, and two were listed as "other." Nineteen were Medicare or Medicaid patients and 12 had private insurance.

Most said that losing their autonomy was their top end-of-life concern.

Of those known to have died from ingesting the medication, 27 lost consciousness within 10 minutes of ingesting it, and 25 were dead within 90 minutes. At least one person, however, lasted 28 hours after ingesting the drugs.

Read the state's report here.

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