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One Story Behind Washington 2011 Death With Dignity Act Statistics

The latest statistics on Washington’s Death with Dignity Act show a steady increase in the people who have legally ended their lives under the law. Seventy terminally people hastened their deaths in 2011 with the help of a doctor’s prescription. That’s according to a new report out Wednesday from the state Department of Health. Since 2009, a total of 255 terminally ill adults have ended their lives in this way.

Meg Holmes of Seattle held brain cancer at bay for 16 months. Surgeries and radiation couldn’t keep her down. The family’s blog about the experience shows happy images of hikes, bike rides, encouraging MRIs. But her husband, Andrew Taylor says in March last year, she had an ordinary MRI.

“And with these MRI’s, you always go and see the doctor immediately afterward. And typically the doctor bounces through the door. And this time he didn’t,” Taylor says. “And we pretty much knew what was coming.”

Over the next seven months, Meg lost her ability to see and move around. And then suddenly …

“She told me out of the blue that she had been thinking about the Death with Dignity Act and now that was something she was really interested in,” Taylor says.

According to the latest numbers from the Washington Department of Health, Meg Holmes is typical of the 70 terminally people who hastened their death with a doctor’s prescription. Most were white, lived west of the Cascades, had health insurance and suffered from cancer. Seventy in 2011 is up from 51 in 2010 and 36 in 2009. One of the law’s advocates, Robb Miller of the group, Compassion and Choice Washington, says despite the increase, this procedure is rare.

“We’re talking about a minuscule number of people,” Miller says.

The Washington Death with Dignity Act requires participating physicians to report information about patients to the state Department of Health. But opponents of doctor-assisted suicide, such as Margaret Dore with the group Choice Is An Illusion, want more intensive oversight.

“What’s not included is whether or not these people acted voluntarily. Did the people consent? We hope they did. Was in their choice? We hope it was. Do we know that? No. Does anybody know that?” Dore asks.

Andrew Taylor says no one who spoke to his wife in her last few days believed it was anything but her choice. He says the day after Meg received the medication, her family gathered around her bed.

“She drank down the half cup of liquid. And she was literally asleep by the time she … by the time she finished drinking the half cup of medication, she was unconscious,” Taylor says.

He says ten minutes later, she was dead. In her final hours, Taylor promised his wife he would take her favorite hiking staff with him up rugged Northwest trails. He plans to take that trip this spring. Taylor says he’ll take some of her ashes too.

The latest numbers from Oregon’s Public Health Division says a total of 71 people in Oregon used the state’s Death with Dignity Act in 2011.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

On the web:

Washington Department of Health statistics

Andrew Taylor’s Blog

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