Monday, 15 July 2013

Assisted suicide deaths increase by 17% in one year in Washington State

The number of Washington state residents who died of physician-assisted suicide rose to 83 in 2012, up from 70 in 2011, 51 in 2010 and 36 in 2009, when the state’s Death With Dignity Act took effect.

This is an overall increase of 130% since 2009 in the most north-west US state outside Alaska.

The Washington State Department of Health reported in May that 121 patients requested and received lethal doses of drugs in 2012.

The vast majority of the terminally ill patients who received life-ending drugs feared loss of autonomy, dignity and ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable.

97% were white, 82% had at least some college education and 73% of the patients had cancer, said the report.

Last year I highlighted the huge increase in deaths from assisted suicide in Oregon and Switzerland of 450% and 700% respectively over ten years as further evidence of the incremental extension that inevitably follows any change in the law.

In the Netherlands euthanasia numbers have increased from 15-20% per year since 2006 and in neighbouring Belgium they have increased 509% in the ten years between 2003 and 2012.

Washington is now showing the same pattern with almost a 130% increase in three years.

Careful examination of the Washington report also reveals that:

• Only 3 of the 121 people who were prescribed a lethal dose were given a psychiatric evaluation.
• One person died 150 weeks after receiving the lethal dose while 17 of the participants died more than 6 months after receiving the lethal dose.
• The physician who prescribed the lethal dose was present only five times during ingestion.
• One person died 16 hours after taking the lethal dose.

Margaret Dore, a Washington State attorney, highlights other causes for concern. She argues that the demographics of those who ingested the lethal drugs - ‘older people with money’ - are a prime target for abuse.

The report also gives no information as to whether all of the 83 people who died after ingesting the lethal dose took it voluntarily but merely records  the fact of ‘ingestion’.

Assisted suicide thankfully remains illegal in Britain and we see only a small trickle of 15-20 Britons per year going to the Dignitas facility in Zurich to end their lives.

But with an Oregon/Washington- type law we would see 1,200 deaths annually.

It is no wonder that over 100 attempts to legalise assisted suicide in other US states have failed over the last 15 years and that Oregon and Washington remain the only states to have legalised the practice on the basis of a referendum. 

Let’s not go there.


  1. What's the proportion of assisted suicide deaths compared to the total number of qualified applicants, Peter?

    Without that data, all of your comments are meaningless speculation.

    1. Not at all. I have accurately recorded the official figures for assisted suicides in Washington showing the rise each year.

      For the record, in 2012, lethal drugs were dispensed to 121 individuals. Of these, 104 are known to have died:

      * 83 died after ingesting the medication
      * 18 died without having ingested the medication
      * For the remaining 3 people who died, ingestion status is unknown
      * For the remaining 17 people, no documentation has been received that indicates death has occurred

    2. All that proves is that the law provides great comfort. They live longer because they have control. It does immeasurable wonders for their anxiety and worries.

      It also says a lot about how much people prefer total control over paternalistic palliative care.

    3. It tells us that lethal dangerous drugs are being kept in the community and that there is no witness to ensure that any acts of assisted suicide are truly voluntary. The key witness is dead.

    4. There are no witnesses now. It's simply covered up under the "doctrine of double effect."

      When consent is documented and guidelines are followed, there is evidence. There is less abuse. Society will be safer as a result.

    5. There is a world of difference ethically, philosophically and practically between 'double effect' when analgesia is given with the intention of relieving pain but as an unintended consequence life is shortened (an event which is incredibly rare in good hands) and assisted suicide when a doctor prescribes lethal drugs with the explicit intention of ending life.

      Making it legal to help kill people themselves is itself abuse and will lead to more abuse as people with something to gain from the victim's death see their opportunity.

      Consent for the actual act (as opposed to the issue of the drugs which may happen months or even years earlier) is not required in Washington and there is no independent witness to the death in most cases to ensure that there has not been further foul play.

    6. How do you know what their intentions are (unless they're stupid enough to give a massive single dose of morphine)? It's a thoughtcrime that's virtually impossible to prove.

      People can already kill themselves with the state's aid if they need dialysis to survive. Why aren't you campaigning against that?

      Any safeguards are better than none. Therefore, patients in Washington are safer than the patients in the UK.

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  3. Only 15 to 20 travel to Zurich annually?

    I shudder to think what the rest of them do with their fortunes.

  4. Any figures on "accidental" ODs of terminal cancer patients before and after the legislation? Has there been a decrease in these that would shorten the actual increase you are showing here?

    1. Excellent point. Prescribing morphine tends to lead to hoarding, which leads to further suffering before the patient has collected enough pills to die peacefully.


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