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Eye On Olympia

Washington woman is first to die under state’s new assisted-suicide law…

A 66-year-old Sequim woman reportedly became the first person to use Washington’s new assisted-suicide law, approved by voters in November. The group Compassion & Choices says that Linda Fleming, diagnosed a month ago with late-stage pancreatic cancer, took lethal medication Thursday night with her family, dog and doctor at her bedside.

Here’s the statement from the group:

Compassion & Choices of Washington (C&C), a nonprofit organization advocating for better end-of-life care and choices, said that Linda Fleming, age 66, of Sequim, last night became the first terminally ill Washingtonian to die using the state’s Death with Dignity Act. Linda was diagnosed just one month ago with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and was told she was actively dying.
 
Linda was stunned when she received her terminal diagnosis, as she had only recently begun feeling discomfort. Linda’s disease progressed rapidly and her pain worsened dramatically. “I had only recently learned how to live in the world as I had always wanted to, and now I will no longer be here. So my fatal disease arrived at a most inopportune time,” said Linda.
 
After working with her physician and C&C’s Client Support volunteers to carefully consider her choices and make her end-of-life decisions, Linda took her prescribed medication on Thursday evening at home with her family, her dog and her physician at her bedside. “The pain became unbearable, and it was only going to get worse,” said Linda in explaining her decision to use the Death with Dignity law. Linda died peacefully knowing that she had a choice in controlling her suffering and time of death from pancreatic cancer.  “I am a very spiritual person, and it was very important to me to be conscious, clear-minded and alert at the time of my death. The powerful pain medications were making it difficult to maintain the state of mind I wanted to have at my death. And I knew I would have to increase them. I am grateful that the Death with Dignity law provides me the choice of a death that fits my own personal beliefs.”
 
“When a cure is no longer possible, the Death With Dignity Act adds another option for patients dying from a terminal illness. The prescribed medication gives patients peace of mind that they can use to take control of their dying if suffering becomes intolerable,”
said Dr. Tom Preston, MD, a cardiologist and C&C’s medical director, “Most dying patients experience suffering.  The Death With Dignity Act allows a physician to help his patients maintain as much control and dignity as they can at the end of life.  Last night, the Death With Dignity Act provided a way to honor this patient’s final decision.”
 
Dr. Preston said that terminal patients are deriving comfort and peace of mind from prescriptions issued under the new law, and that the law is working as voters and its sponsors intended.


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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