by Bob Free, JD, Board President
Although Representative Skyler Rude’s House Bill 1141 did not advance out of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee this legislative session, we remain hopeful that the Legislature will eventually take steps to reduce the barriers that terminally ill Washingtonians must navigate to exercise their choice to die with dignity and autonomy. In addition to shortening the required waiting period from 15 days to 72 hours, a very important goal of the bill was to allow Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants to participate in medical-aid-in-dying. This would have doubled the number of practitioners eligible to see patients seeking death with dignity at the end of life. There are close to 20,000 physicians and roughly about 11,000 Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants in Washington.
As it did last year, the bill quickly passed the House with bipartisan support. This year, we focused on the Senate and arranged constituent meetings with several Senators. Our lobbyists met individually with 20 senators. We provided endorsement letters from 40 physicians, social workers from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, four elder law attorneys, the Washington chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and the Nurse Practitioners’ Association. You and hundreds of other supporters emailed or called key Senators to voice support for the bill. Thank you!
Our lobbyists counted the number of votes we had in the Senate, and we were confident that the bill would also pass the Senate. At the last minute, timing during a short and busy session kept the bill from moving forward.
What did pass was a $200,000 budget proviso to fund a University of Washington study of barriers to accessing Death with Dignity medication. With the findings of this study due in December, we anticipate having more factual support for reducing barriers to patients’ access to Death with Dignity. The study may point to other ways to improve patient access to the law, such as offering training for practitioners so they will be more confident to help their dying patients instead of not wanting to be involved. Also, we hope that some of the bureaucratic and paperwork requirements for practitioners who prescribe can be lessened so that they will not be as reluctant to help. Who knows what other positive changes a professional study might identify?
We know we cannot wait for the Legislature to act. As other articles in this newsletter explain, we are now taking other actions needed to have enough providers to enable everyone who calls EOLWA to receive quality, no charge assistance with their end-of-life plans. But rest assured, we will return to the Legislature for help.