A State Legislature Update by Sebastian Moraga

We came so close.

After passing in the House of Representatives, HB 1141, the bill that would have updated our state’s current Death With Dignity law, headed to the Senate. 

It died there, but not without leaving a legacy of progress that will serve us well next year, when we try again to get it passed.

For starters, the simple fact that our bill made it out of the House is an encouraging sign. The fact that we had support from a Republican lawmaker and a Democrat lawmaker in drafting the bill (Nicole Macri (D) and Skyler Rude (R)) is also a plus. 

“The bill passed out of the house on a bipartisan vote and was ready to be voted on in the Senate; we just ran out of time,” End of Life Washington’s contract lobbyist Nancy Sapiro said.

Our bill took these strides in the midst of unprecedented challenges placed in our path by the pandemic that upended all of our lives. 

Nevertheless, the fact that we made it as far as the Senate makes us optimistic about the future, as well as grateful for the work that people like State Reps. Rude, Macri, and Eileen Cody put forth in trying to get it passed in the House, and State Sen. Annette Cleveland in the Senate.

“It was a very challenging year for us given the virtual session and the priorities laid out by legislative leadership this session, and yet we had a great deal of success,” Sapiro said.

She believes that the current law should be updated to better reflect the realities of the current practice, while keeping the core safeguards of the law in place.

The existing law has been in place since 2009, and it’s working as intended for those who can access it. 

Evidence suggests that the passage of the law has resulted in improved conversations between patients and physicians, better palliative care, training and improved enrollment in hospice care.

Too many eligible residents are robbed of the benefits of the law by unnecessary regulatory roadblocks. For instance, more than one-third of End of Life Washington’s clients have difficulty finding physicians to support them in accessing the law. About one-half die within the 15-day waiting period.  

One-third of them come to End of Life Washington without a physician that can aid them with Death With Dignity.

Thus, crafting a bill that can help us overcome these roadblocks has become essential.

“House Bill 1141 was that bill. It would allow more eligible patients to access medical aid in dying,” Sapiro said.

Bob Free, president of the board of directors of End of Life Washington, agreed, saying that passage of such legislation would “reinforce the right of Washingtonians to a dignified death, without barriers.”

House Bill 1141, if enacted into law, would have shortened the waiting time to obtain a prescription, and allow more qualified providers to support patients who want  medical aid in dying. It would also have allowed  patients to make the best and most timely decisions, and would have modernized the delivery of prescriptions. 

The progress is a source of pride.

“Ours was the second state in the nation to adopt a Death With Dignity law in 2008, and End of Life Washington is proud to have worked for over a decade to help terminally ill residents achieve a death aligned with their values and priorities,” Free said. 

He later added, “We value our collaboration with the national organization Compassion & Choices and look forward to continuing our work together.”

Sapiro echoed Free’s words, saying that the close call of 2021 will only fuel next year’s efforts in Olympia and across the state.

“We may have fallen short this session but we will be back and intend to get it across the finish line in 2022,” Sapiro said.

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