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Thursday, September 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Hospitals won’t help patients end lives

Deaconess, Valley will opt out of law

Spokane hospitals will not allow physicians to prescribe or administer lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients, opting out of a voter-approved initiative that allows the controversial practice.

Executives at Deaconess Medical Center, along with Valley Medical Center and Hospital, announced their decision Thursday.

While physicians, employees, volunteers and others at the hospitals will not assist patients who want to end their lives, the hospital will assist a patient who wishes to be transferred to another facility where they may have their choice honored.

“We do believe that the passage of this act by Washington voters is a call to improve end-of-life care,” Dennis Barts, chief executive at Valley, said in a press release.

Hospital policy, however, will not apply to the decisions made by patients and their physicians at private clinics housed on the hospitals’ campuses.

That’s a departure from the strict rules of Providence Health. The Catholic hospital system that owns Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital declared months ago that it would not allow physician-assisted suicide at any of it facilities. Nor will it allow such practices at buildings it leases to physicians for their private practices.

“All leases for our buildings require respect for our Catholic ethical and religious directives,” said Karina Jennings, a Providence spokeswoman.

Providence, which operates 40 facilities across the state, was a sharp critic of the initiative and has called its hospitals places of hope and healing. The Washington State Medical Association also was an outspoken opponent of the initiative, which passed with strong support.

In Seattle, the University of Washington Medical Center and its affiliates will allow doctors to fulfill their patients’ wishes to die if the criteria are met.

Other hospital systems in the Puget Sound region, including Swedish and Virginia Mason, have struck approaches similar to Deaconess and Valley, allowing for some flexibility on their campuses by giving physicians with independent clinics on the campuses the autonomy to discuss and potentially carry out their patients’ wishes.

Cassie Sauer, spokeswoman for the Washington State Hospital Association, said the search for a middle ground among the hospitals “show how monumental these decisions are.”

Most people who seek an end-of-life prescription from a doctor most likely won’t choose to die in a hospital room. The real challenges may rest with clinics and care facilities, where patients who don’t have families or homes to go to may seek to die.

The Washington will take effect in July. It is the second of its kind in the country and modeled after Oregon’s decade-old law.

John Stucke can be reached at (509) 459-5419 or

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