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This article is from the In-Depth Report Science and the U.S. Election

Also on the ballot: Assisted suicide measure

There's renewed energy behind the right-to-die movement: A voter initiative on the Washington State ballot would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to dying patients.

If residents approve the measure, known as Initiative 1000 or the "Washington Death with Dignity Initiative," the state would become only the second in the country to allow the terminally ill to die with the help of a doctor. Oregon approved its own law in 1994.

Washington State voters rejected physician-assisted suicide in 1991, as have those in California, Michigan and Maine, the Associated Press notes. But unlike the first, failed initiative in Washington State, this one—sponsored by a coalition led by former Washington State Gov. Booth Gardner, who has Parkinson's disease—wouldn't let doctors administer lethal medicines to patients who can't take them on their own. Only the patients themselves would be able to use them to commit suicide.

Here are the parameters of the proposed law, according to the Yes on I-1000 Web site: Patients would have to be state residents who are 18 or older, be diagnosed with a terminal illness that gives them six months or less to live, and be mentally competent. They'd have to make three requests for medication — two verbal, and one in writing — with a 15-day waiting period between the first verbal request and the written one. There would be another 48-hour wait between the written request and the writing of the actual prescription.

Two people would have to witness the signing of the written request.

Since Oregon's law went into effect in 1997, 340 people have taken their lives, the AP says. That law, as well as the proposed Washington State measure, stop short of allowing euthanasia as it works in the Netherlands, the Seattle Times notes. There, doctors can administer lethal drugs.

(Image by iStockphoto/Arne Trautmann)

 

 

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