Report: Dozens used suicide law in 2011

Seventy people are known to have died in 2011 after taking prescribed lethal doses of medication, the state Health Department said.

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Seventy people in Washington legally took their own lives in 2011, a report released today found.

Washington state's Death with Dignity Act annual data shows 103 people requested and received lethal doses of medication in 2011, up 16 percent from 2010.

Since the law passed in 2009, 255 terminally ill adults have received the medication in this state.

The Washington Death with Dignity Act allows terminally ill adults seeking to end their life to request lethal doses of medication from physicians. These terminally ill patients must be Washington residents who have less than six months to live.

The annual report by the Washington State Department of Health said the prescriptions were written by 80 physicians and dispensed by 46 pharmacists.

Of the 103 people who received lethal doses, 94 are known to have died. Seventy died after taking the medication, the report said.

Those who died were between 41 and 101 years old and more than 90 percent lived west of the Cascades. Most had cancer.

It's not as ambiguous as those numbers might look, noted agency spokesman Donn Moyer.

"The way we break it out, we know 103 people received the medication, that 70 people took that medication and died and 19 died without taking the medication. There are five more who died, but we don't know yet if they ever took the medication. The status of the other nine is unknown," Moyer said.

According to prescribing physicians, many of the patients who received medication expressed concern about loss of autonomy as a reason for requesting a prescription.

Under Washington's Death with Dignity Act, the Department of Health collects information from patients and providers who choose to participate, monitors compliance with reporting requirements, and produces an annual report.

One of the requirements of the law is making sure participants cannot be identified and the department does not release county-by-county statistics, Moyer said.

For more information go to www.doh.wa.gov/dwda.

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