Washington states Death with Dignity Act requires coroners and medical examiners to lie.
In 2008, Washington became the second state after Oregon to make it legal for physicians to prescribe medicine to assist the suicide of a competent adult who is terminally ill, lives in Washington state and is expected to die within six months.
Anyone who meets those requirements may request that a licensed practitioner (not the attending doctor) write a potentially lethal prescription. The request must be made verbally and in writing with mandated waiting periods between the verbal and written requests and again before the prescription is written.
Written requests must be witnessed by two people who are not related to the patient, heirs of the estate or associated with the patients health-care facility.
People requesting suicide assistance are not required to tell their families, though doctors who choose to participate (nobody has to) must recommend that they do so. Life insurers may not deny payment, as some do in cases of suicide.
Doctors who write these prescriptions and pharmacists who fill them are protected from civil or criminal liability and from disciplinary action by professional boards as long as they report their actions to the state.
The law protects the interests of everybody but the medical examiner.
The act says that the patients death certificate ... shall list the underlying terminal disease as the cause of death.
The certificate may not reference the Death with Dignity Act, mention the drug used to terminate life or contain terms such as suicide, assisted suicide, physician-assisted suicide, mercy killing or euthanasia. The manner of death must be certified as natural.
If any death certificate fails to comply, the Washington state registrar will reject it and require the medical certifier to sign an acceptable correction before issuing a permit allowing burial or cremation acceptable correction meaning a misstatement of the facts.
I think this is a bad law. A small minority who are both physically incapacitated and mentally coherent may need help, but the great majority of people who wish to commit suicide are perfectly able to do so without a doctors assistance.
Im a big fan of personal responsibility. If you really want to do it, do it. Theres no need to involve anybody else.
Information about painless ways of committing suicide is readily available on the Internet, and publications of the Hemlock Society have been around for decades.
For anybody who wants to overdose, prescription drugs arent needed. Over-the-counter medications, especially combined with alcohol, are quite effective.
I have no problem with the right of the individual to choose suicide, and I accept that the majority may decide what laws they will be governed by, but the legal requirement for a cover-up is nuts.
Death with dignity is a fine phrase, but wheres the dignity in forcing doctors to sign certificates that misstate the facts?
Im no fan of euphemisms or political correctness. Assisted suicide is suicide. Legalize it if you will, but call it what it is.
email@example.com. Dr. Carol J. Huser, a forensic pathologist, has served as La Plata County coroner since January 2003.