by Sunil Aggarwal, MD, Ph.D., Board Vice President
Recognizing the urgent need for more options to alleviate the at times paralyzing psychospiritual distress that accompanies a terminal illness diagnosis and at end of life, End of Life Washington broke new ground in the Fall of 2020 when it became the first statewide medical aid-in-dying stewarding organization to release a policy paper supporting psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy as a legal option, as a part of palliative care for terminally ill patients.
Found at endoflifewa.org, the policy paper written by then-board member Judith Gordon, Ph.D., summarized the findings of studies that showed that psilocybin therapy is effective in relieving emotional and existential distress at the end of life for 65-85% of terminally ill people in clinical trials when administered properly. There were no lasting negative effects, and many significant and enduring positive benefits. These findings fit in with the goals of palliative care, which per the WHO “Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care; enhance[s] quality of life…”
Psilocybin is one of a family of similar substances from plants, fungi, or other sources, that have been known as entheogens, a term coined by scientists and scholars in 1979 that refers to substances that ‘occasion the divine or transcendent within’ (en-within, theo-god, gen-generates). Indigenous human cultures worldwide have utilized entheogens in traditional healing and spiritual development, including in times of major life transitions. We prefer the term ‘entheogen’ to the more modern term ‘psychedelic,’ as it is broader and more inclusive and connotes the much longer, millennia-old practice of psychospiritual healing with entheogens. This year, EOLWA started an Entheogen Working Group to explore how EOLWA can include entheogenic care as a part of our mission (support, awareness, advocacy) and EOLWA choices umbrella. I am pleased to lead this workgroup with the support of our Executive Director, Judy Kinney.
I am also serving on the Washington State Legislature’s Psilocybin Wellness and Opportunities Stakeholder Group, headed by the Health Care Authority, to provide input for policy recommendations. In the meantime, we continue to support the efforts of attorney Kathryn Tucker to secure legal access to psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws for those with life-threatening and terminal illness under medical supervision. We are asking our supporters to contact their US Senators to support the Right to Try Clarification Act which was recently introduced in Congress. If entheogens like psilocybin, in conjunction with guided support, can help relieve suffering at the end of life, then EOLWA may work to make sure that this choice is available for all who seek it.
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