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US voters approve Washington assisted dying law (5th November 2008)

5 November 2008

US voters approve Washington assisted dying law

Voters in the US State of Washington have approved a measure making it the second US state to give mentally competent terminally ill adults the option of a medically assisted death, within strict safeguards.

The measure – Initiative 1000 – is based on Oregon’s ‘Death with Dignity’ law, and will allow terminally ill people, who have been diagnosed as having 6 months or less to live, to be prescribed life ending medication, which would be self-administered.

Latest counts show that the Initiative has been approved by around 58 percent of Washingtonians.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns in the UK for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life said:

“Washington citizens and their elected representatives have had an honest and open debate about the assisted dying law. That’s what we need in the UK. The UK’s Suicide Act is 47 years old. We urge parliamentarians to take a fresh look and decide whether or not it really works in a modern context.”

“It’s clear that in places such as Oregon, where there are strict safeguards, the vulnerable are protected and assisted dying gives terminally ill people who are suffering unbearably the right to dignity and choice at the end of their lives.”

She continued:

“Washington now joins Oregon, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland in giving people at the end of life greater choice. This is an issue that is also currently being debated in France and Spain. It is now time for Britain to engage fully in this debate.”


Notes to editor

Initiative 1000

The measure would permit terminally ill, competent adults to request and self-administer lethal medication prescribed by a physician.

Two physicians would be required to determine that the patient has an incurable disease expected to cause death within six months.

Among other provisions, the physician must recommend, but not require, the patient to notify next of kin.

By a 3-to-1 ratio, voters also approved Initiative 1029, which would require long-term care workers to undergo more training and pass an exam.

About Washington State

Washington State is in the North West of Continental United States. According to the U.S. Census, as of 2006, Washington has an estimated population of 6,395,798. Its state capital is Olympia, but its largest city is Seattle.

About the Oregon Death with Dignity Act

The tenth annual report on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act (ODDA) shows that assisted dying legislation which was introduced in 1997 is working. The full report can be found at:

341 people have used the ODDA since it came into force. In 2007, 49 people with terminal illnesses used the Act to end their lives.

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 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.

Opinion polls consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population supports a change in the law on assisted dying.

Media enquiries

Please contact James Harris by telephone on 020 7479 7739 or 07766574447 or by email