by Cassandra Sutherland, MPH, Client Services Manager
I write this on the last day of March, a month that brought ninety new clients to End of Life Washington (EOLWA). People are seeking support from EOLWA at unprecedented levels. Weekly, EOLWA is serving more clients and educating more people. However, access to supportive physicians is not keeping pace with the need.
We realize end-of-life care in Washington is unequal. Access to support and services is influenced by class, race, geography, etc. Even receiving the best care possible, a doctor may be prohibited from supporting your choice for an aid-in-dying prescription.
Religious health care systems, where providers are prohibited from participating in medical-aid-in-dying, make up close to half of Washington’s medical services. This is where End of Life Washington’s volunteer physician community-based model is a foundational part of a state-wide system of aid-in-dying services.
EOLWA serves close to 90% of all people accessing medical-aid-in-dying in Washington. We partner with some amazing people to make it possible, and we would not be able to do any of it without volunteers, particularly volunteer physicians. Our volunteer providers will always fill the gap in services created by restricted religious health systems, and our free end-of-life care system remains a model for other aid-in-dying organizations.
Presently, End of Life Washington relies on roughly 28 volunteer physicians. These incredible volunteer doctors make up the backbone of client services. Each year they see hundreds of clients who otherwise would not have access to aid-in-dying. They are an incredible bunch, and we thank them for their service, yet they should not be the primary providers of aid-in-dying support.
Access to aid-in-dying services is in a critical situation; more providers are needed to match the rate at which clients seek to access aid-in-dying services.
We are launching a ground-breaking Aid-in-Dying Provider Network because we believe that each of us, should we become terminally ill, should be confident that we can access aid-in-dying services when we see our medical provider. Launching the Provider Network is a three-year project, though we imagine that the benefits will continue far into the future. The Provider Network will be grounded in our three mission areas – support, awareness, and advocacy.
An early priority will be to work within secular health care systems. We are confident that with more opportunities for education and mentoring, many hesitant physicians can, and will, support their patients who choose to access aid-in-dying. We have many collaborative partners —supportive healthcare institutions, palliative programs, and hospices that are a model for end-of-life care. Social workers and physicians support their patients to navigate the aid-in-dying process.
Our Aid-in-Dying Provider Network plan will build upon current models of care and will strengthen and expand access across the state. If you work in or are retired from health care and want more information about how to get involved, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.