The voter-approved Death with Dignity Act takes effect on March 4. Robb Miller of Compassion & Choices of Washington writes in the Bellingham Herald about the kinds of questions that patients should be asking their care providers now if they are considering using this new law.
The University of Washington and Harborview Medical Centers have already decided to participate in the program, but other care facilities around the state likely won’t. Either way, I’m optimistic that Washington will experience the same improvements in terminal care that Oregon has had. As Robb writes:
The act’s benefits will extend well beyond the terminally ill. In Oregon, the law spurred conversation, education and improvements in end-of-life care across the board. Oregon experienced dramatic increases in those who died at home rather than in hospitals — something almost all of us prefer. More patients were referred to, and entered, hospice care, and did so earlier, receiving benefits that are helpful to all facing the end of life. Better use of pain medication resulted from more open and frequent conversations with physicians about end-of-life care.
This is one benefit of allowing the choice of death with dignity that I didn’t touch on much during the campaign. For organizations that oppose this choice for moral or other ethical reasons, they’ll be motivated by seeing their patients going elsewhere to choose this option to focus more energy towards improving end-of-life care.
No one intends to force physicians or care organizations to participate in this program, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t benefit from it. Giving people greater choice over their own medical decisions ultimately forces all health care providers to get better.