Law Office of John S. Palmer Attorney at Law

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Washington’s "Death with Dignity" Law (aka "Physician Assisted Suicide")

Posted Saturday, June 26, 2010 by John S. Palmer

Washington law permits Residents suffering from a terminal illness to request medication that the patient may self-administer to end his or her own life.

From an estate planning perspective, the law does not require changes to existing estate planning documents. This is because the law does not permit patients to delegate the decision to invoke the new law to a substitute decision maker, such as an attorney-in-fact or guardian.

A patient’s act of ending his or her own life in accordance with the law does not have any effect on any life, health, or accident insurance or annuity policy. The sale of such policies may not be conditioned upon the making or rescinding of a request for medication under the Act. Any provision in a Will, contract or other agreement, affecting whether a person may make or rescind such request, is null and void.

The mechanics of the law are pretty straight forward. A mentally competent Washington resident may submit a written request for medication that the patient may self-administer to end his or her own life; this written request must also be signed by two witnesses, at least one of whom is not related to the patient, entitled to inherit from the patient, or an employee of any health care facility treating the patient. Also, the patient’s doctor cannot be a witness. The witnesses must attest that, to the best of their knowledge and belief, the patient is competent, acting voluntarily, and not being coerced to sign the request.

The treating physician must refer the patient to a consulting physician, for a second opinion as to the diagnosis, and to verify the patient is competent, is acting voluntarily, and has made an informed decision.

The treating physician and consulting physician must refer the patient for counseling with a psychiatrist or psychologist if either of them believes the patient may be suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment and the process will go no further until the counselor determines the patient’s judgment is not impaired.

The patient may rescind his or her request at any time. Health-care providers may decline to participate in this process, but the patient may transfer his or her care to a new health provider. The law grants civil and criminal immunity to any health care provider who participates in good faith.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (425) 455-5513, toll free at (877) 455-5513, or

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Law Office of John S. Palmer11911 NE 1st St, Ste. B204,Bellevue, WA 98005-3056