May 22, 2009 in Region

Wash. state has first death under new suicide law

66-year-old woman from Sequim had pancreatic cancer
Rachel La Corte Associated Press
 

OLYMPIA — A 66-year-old woman from Sequim is the first person to die under the state’s new assisted suicide law.

Linda Fleming died Thursday night after taking drugs prescribed under the “Death with Dignity” law that took effect in March. Compassion & Choices of Washington announced the death Friday morning.

The organization says Fleming was diagnosed last month with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Officials with Compassion & Choices said she died 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,” Fleming said in a statement released by the organization.

The new law was approved in November’s election with a nearly 60 percent vote. It is based on Oregon’s measure, which passed in 1997. Since then, about 401 people have used the Oregon law to end their lives.

As in Oregon, under the Washington state measure, physicians and pharmacists are not required to write or fill lethal prescriptions if they are opposed to the law. Some hospitals have opted out of the law, which precludes their doctors from participating on hospital property.

Under the Washington law, any patient requesting fatal medication must be at least 18, declared competent and be a resident of the state.

Two doctors would have to certify that the patient has a terminal condition and six months or less to live. The patient must also make two oral requests, 15 days apart, and make a written request that is witnessed by two people.

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