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Washington Euthanasia Laws

Euthanasia, or mercy killing, is the intentional taking of one's life for the purpose of ending that person's suffering. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of euthanasia and whether or not it should be legal. The debate involves many aspects of law, religion, medical and social sciences.

Washington's Physician-Assisted Suicide Laws

In 2008, voters in the Evergreen State approved a ballot measure making Washington the nation's second state to allow terminally ill people the option of medically assisted suicide.

The law protects doctors from being criminally prosecuted under a state law forbidding anyone from aiding in a suicide attempt.

Qualifications

Washington's physician-assisted suicide law is codified in the Washington Death with Dignity Act.

To qualify, an individual must have a terminal illness and have less than six (6) months to live, as determined by his or her physician. The patient or caretaker (through a power of attorney and advanced directive) may request lethal doses of medication that allow the patient to die peacefully and without pain.

Is Physician-Assisted Suicide The Same As Euthanasia?

No. While both physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia involve the use of lethal medications to deliberately end a patient's life, the key difference is in who acts to end the patient's life.

In physician-assisted suicide, the patient must self-administer the medications provided by a physician. The patient decides whether and when to ingest the lethal medication.

Euthanasia occurs when a third party administers medication or acts directly to end the patient's life. Euthanasia is illegal in every state, including Washington.

Learn more about Washington's euthanasia law in the following table. See FindLaw's Patient Rights section for related materials.

Code Section RCW 70.245, et seq.
Euthanasia Condoned in Statutes? Yes. Physician-assisted suicide is permitted for terminally ill patients with an estimated six months or less to live.  
Qualification Criteria for Patients Must be at least 18 years old, Washington resident, mentally competent, terminally ill with less than 6 months to live (as verified by two physicians).
Waiting Periods 15 days between first oral request and written request; 48-hours between written request and writing of prescription for lethal medications.
Effect of Withholding of Life-Sustaining Procedures Withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment shall not constitute suicide or homicide.

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a Washington health care attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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