While Washington voters made it legal for doctors to help terminally ill residents end their lives, opponents of the assisted suicide measure indicated Wednesday they will continue to resist the practice.
Initiative 1000 won with strong support Tuesday, but doctors don’t have to help their patients make that final act, says the Washington State Medical Association.
Furthermore, Eastern Washington’s largest hospital system, Providence Health and Services, will forbid physicians from helping patients die at its hospitals, nursing homes and assisted care centers.
“Providence will not support physician-assisted suicide within its ministries,” the owner of Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital said in a prepared statement. “This position is grounded in our basic values of respect for the sacredness of life, compassionate care of dying and vulnerable persons, and respect for the integrity of medical, nursing and allied health professions. We do not believe health care providers should ever be put in a position of aiding a patient in taking his or her own life.”
The new Washington law is set to take effect in July 2009 after state regulators write rules to guide the practice.
Only the second of its kind in the country, the measure is modeled after an Oregon law that has been in practice for 10 years and has survived legal challenges.
Providence Health, which operates eight hospitals in Washington and seven in Oregon, is not pursuing legal action to stop the new law, said spokeswoman Karina Jennings.
“We believe we don’t have to participate and plan to exercise a conscience clause allowing us to be exempt,” she said.
The Catholic Church was an ardent opponent of the assisted suicide initiative; Providence Health is a Catholic health ministry.
Similarly, the Washington State Medical Association was outspoken in its opposition during the campaign.
It was among medical associations in 49 states that oppose assisted suicide and support repeal of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, said spokeswoman Jennifer Lawrence Hanscom.
Doctors say assisted suicide runs counter to the Hippocratic Oath, which directs them to do no harm.
Washington’s I-1000 allows doctors to prescribe to adult patients a lethal overdose of barbiturates or other drugs if the doctor believes that patient has a life expectancy of less than six months.
Supporters of the law, notably former Gov. Booth Gardner, and opponents spent a combined $7 million on highly emotional advertising and campaigning.
By a 59 percent to 41 percent margin, Washington voters agreed that terminally ill people have the right to obtain lethal prescriptions from their doctors to hasten their deaths.
Hospice of Spokane said the initiative will not affect its mission.
“Hospice of Spokane’s life-affirming care is intended to neither hasten nor prolong death,” the organization said in a statement. “Rather, it is about providing patients with the best possible quality of life in the time they have remaining.”
The nonprofit organization does not practice physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia.
But it will not deny or discontinue hospice care to patients who are considering seeking help to end their lives.