Fifty-one people have died in the first
full year under Washington state’s Death with Dignity Act. Figures released by the
state health department
show that 68 physicians wrote life-ending
prescriptions for 87 patients in 2010. Of these 72 died: 51 from the medication
and 15 died of their illnesses. Another 15 patients were still alive. In 6
deaths, it was unclear whether the patients had taken the drug.

“There are no surprises here,”
said Robb Miller, executive director of Compassion & Choices of Washington,
a leading euthanasia group. “We are seeing a steady increase in the number
of participating physicians and a continuation of a very small percentage of
dying patients who use the law. About one-tenth of 1% of all people who die in
Washington elect to self-administer life-ending medication. It’s a very, very
small number.”

Critics of the law, however, complained
that exact figures are papering over gaps in information about the deaths. ““The published data … is so limited and
unreliable that even those agreeing with the policy have qualms regarding the
health department’s inability to determine whether the law operates with the
full safety and voluntariness its proponents were promised,” said Eileen
Geller, of True Compassion Advocates. For instance, of the 72 people who died,
the department had only seen 61 of the death certificates.

Serious pain did not seem to be a great
concern. Of the people who died, 90%
were concerned about loss of autonomy, 64% about loss of dignity, and 87% about
losing the ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable. ~, Mar 28

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.