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US State of Washington releases 2010 assisted dying figures

The 2010 figures on the use of Washington’s Death with Dignity Act have been released today by the Washington State Health Department. The law which was introduced in 2009 allows terminally ill, mentally competent adults to request an assisted death, within upfront safeguards. Washington’s neighbouring state of Oregon has had a similar law in place for over 10 years.

The figures indicate that the law is working well and provides useful information and lessons for the campaign to give terminally ill Britons the choice of an assisted death, here in the UK, should they consider their suffering unbearable.

Overall, 87 terminally ill, mentally competent adults in Washington State were prescribed life-ending medication under the Act in 2010. To date, 72 of the people in receipt of prescriptions have died. 51 of those people died using the life ending medication, 15 of these people (21%) did not take the medication (Washington State Health Department is awaiting data on the remaining 6 people). The prescriptions were written by 68 different doctors, allaying any fears of ‘doctor shopping’.

The reported end-of-life concerns of the 51 people who died after taking the life-ending medication include loss of autonomy (90%), and being less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable (87%).

Of those who used their life-ending medication to die, 90% were at home and 84% were enrolled in hospice care; so demonstrating that assisted dying and palliative care are complementary where assisted dying has been legalised and regulated. No one taking the life-ending medication suffered any complications.

Davina Hehir, Head of Policy and Legal Strategy at Dignity in Dying said:

“We are encouraged that the relatively new law in Washington seems to be working well. Dignity in Dying wants to learn from the experiences of countries where assisted dying is legal to ensure UK assisted dying legislation is fully safeguarded and appropriate for our society.”


Notes to Editors:

About Dignity in Dying:

  • Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.
  • Dignity in Dying has over 25,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
  • The British Social Attitudes Survey 2010 found that 92% of non-religious and 71% of religious people support assisted dying. This relates to overall support of 82%.

About the Washington State Death with Dignity Act:

The Washington State Death with Dignity Act (RCW 70.245) was passed by voter initiative on November 4, 2008 and became law on March 5, 2009. The law allows terminally ill adults seeking to end their lives in a humane and dignified manner to request lethal doses of medication from medical and osteopathic physicians. These terminally ill patients must be Washington residents who have an estimated six months (180 days) or less to live.

The 2010 figures cannot accurately be compared to previous years as the Death with Dignity law only came into effect in March 2009. As a result, the 2009 data only covers 10 months whereas the data for 2010 reflect a full 12 months.

About the Report:

The report can be found at:

Media Contacts:

For all Dignity in Dying media enquiries, please contact Jo Cartwright on 020 7479 7737 / 07725433025 or at