Drug Policy

Assisted Suicide in Washington

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On Tuesday voters in Washington state approved an assisted suicide law similar to Oregon's Death With Dignity Act by a 58-to-42-percent margin. Washington is only the second state with such a law, which allows patients who are certified as terminally ill to obtain prescriptions for barbiturates they can use to end their lives. This option is not a huge advance for liberty. Only people who want to kill themselves for what the government considers a legitimate reason are eligible, and they have to go through a state-mandated ritual: clearance from two doctors who agree they are likely to die within six months, two oral requests at least 15 days apart, and a written request signed by two witnesses. As Thomas Szasz has noted, this whole humiliating procedure could be avoided if the government did not presume to restrict adults' access to drugs. Still, laws like Oregon's and Washington's do make some people in some circumstances a bit freer. Furthermore, the clash over this issue between Oregon and the Bush administration, which wanted to prevent the use of prescriptions for suicide, led to a Supreme Court decision that preserved some measure of federalism in the regulation of medicine, even in the wake of the Court's medical marijuana decision.

More reason coverage of assisted suicide herehere, and here.

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  1. So, if you want to check out and don’t feel like jumping through the government hoops, your best bet is still an overdose of heroin, it sounds like.

    -jcr

  2. While I think people should be free to end their lives if they choose, there is something to be said for making sure this uber-irreversible decision is not made lightly.

  3. What were those booths called on Futurama?

  4. Hmmm…it’s hard to even have an opinion on assisted suicide. I oppose suicide on principle but at the same time advocate a person’s ability to commit it if they choose. Bringing a second person in complicates that shit.

  5. And what happens when hospital administrators calculate that it will save them money if a particular patient offs him or herself? How will care change, how will discussions with family members change, how will insurance reimbursement change, etc..

    Assisted suicide already happens all the time, in a grey area. Perhaps that grey area is important.

  6. “Hmmm…it’s hard to even have an opinion on assisted suicide. I oppose suicide on principle but at the same time advocate a person’s ability to commit it if they choose. Bringing a second person in complicates that shit.”

    How does it complicate it?

  7. “And what happens when hospital administrators calculate that it will save them money if a particular patient offs him or herself? How will care change, how will discussions with family members change, how will insurance reimbursement change, etc..”

    Informed consent?

  8. The booths have at least three modes of death: “quick and painless,” “slow and horrible”, and “clumsy bludgeoning”.

    You are now dead, please take your receipt.

  9. Guns are quick and painless. But messy. So put a tarp down, for your family’s sake.

  10. The booths have at least three modes of death: “quick and painless,” “slow and horrible”, and “clumsy bludgeoning”.

    You are now dead, please take your receipt.

    Thank you for using Stop-N-Drop! America’s favorite suicide booth since 2008.

    We’ve only got a couple of months left to invent these things, people!

  11. “Dude, I just snorted a plethora of medicinal-grade barbiturates, and now there are hundreds of terrifying arachnids crawling out of my penis. They all have human lips”

  12. How does it complicate it?

    Is it really suicide if someone helps? It might sound like a joke, but…the “purity” level of the suicide goes down with each hand added. It’s like Pvt. Joker shooting that sniper at the end of Full Metal Jacket. Least that’s how I look at it, idiosyncratic though it may be.

  13. Why such a negative tone to the post? Why do libertarians get some pissy over small steps towards liberty? Sure, it’s not the ideal, but smile for a change…

  14. Is it really suicide if someone helps?

    This isn’t about someone holding a pillow over their face, the “helping” in this case is prescribing the pills. It’s still just plain old suicide, but since you need a prescription for the medication the law protects the doctor.

  15. Only people who want to kill themselves for what the government considers a legitimate reason are eligible, and they have to go through a state-mandated ritual

    Fuck that. Acute lead poisoning is the way to go.

  16. @JP Brian

    …fair point. I guess I’m just thinking about suicide in too old-school a fashion.

  17. Yet another “problem” that can be solved with a simple restoration of property rights.We can blame FDR for this one too.

  18. The old-school comparison to this might be if they held the person who sold them the gun or the rope responsible for the suicide. Not that they should be held responsible, but neither should the doctor, so at least this is a step in the right direction.

  19. Guns are quick and painless. But messy. So put a tarp down, for your family’s sake.

    I know this was a joke, but if you care about your family at all, don’t make them find you like that. Take the extra time and get enough heroin for a quick overdose. Easy for me to say, I guess. I’d have no idea about where to get heroin.

  20. Dude, why the pessimism? Progress is slow, but even a small win is one step closer. This paves the way so that in 10 years, a more expansive law will be passed.

  21. Why such a negative tone to the post? Why do libertarians get some pissy over small steps towards liberty?

    I don’t know. People need to look on the bright side more often.

    On the other hand, I might guess that Jacob Sullum just wanted to easily mention Szasz (who is a friend of liberty for sure, but not science). I would want to mention him or some other thinkers about liberty and medicine as well, but I think this is the easiest way.

  22. At first I thought this was about assisted suicide for Washington, D.C., and I was all set to support it….

  23. “Yet another “problem” that can be solved with a simple restoration of property rights.We can blame FDR for this one too.”

    Bullshit. It was not against the law for a physician to knowingly induce death of another before FDR? Hell, SUICIDE unassisted was a crime in nearly every jurisdiction before FDR.

    Face it SIV, it assisted suicide could not be even thought to be legalized until the nation became liberal enough to tell the theocrats (conservatives) where to go.

    “Why such a negative tone to the post? Why do libertarians get some pissy over small steps towards liberty?”

    This was a good step toward liberty to be celebrated.

  24. I voted for this and am happy it was approved. There were a number of commercials against it, but it still passed.

  25. The guillotine is the absolute most painless way to go.

  26. How long until a cop shoots someone and says it was assisted suicide.

    “The guy was going to die someday anyway!”

    The have already started with dogs.

  27. It’s a good thing. Barely. I speak only for myself here, if I wished to end my life with a drug overdose legal niceties would be #87,341 on my list of stupid crap to worry about. With less hassle, less expense and less wait I could by enough heroin to do the job in a couple hours.

  28. Or maybe if people had access to whatever drugs they wanted, no one else would have to be involved at all.

    I know, I know, that’s crazy. What about the children?

  29. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this thing is legal in two states are the mos tliberal in the nation.

    I’d like to see SIV get this thing passed in “freedom loving Georgia” or any other conservative state…

  30. Crow Eating Dumbass,

    You didn’t need a ‘scrip for barbs until the New Deal 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act .

  31. “freedom loving Georgia”

    Home of the biggest Libertarian Party vote-getter of all time, John Monds.

  32. Crow Eating Dumbass,

    No more Mr. Nice Guy. For the next month anyways!

  33. What makes assissted suicide attractive is that by the time you’ve had the stroke and you’re wearing Depends (that someone else has to change) it’s too late to do yourself in without help. You can’t get to the .357 or the bathtub (much less find the razor blades) and the doctor isn’t going to give you enough morphine to keep the pain down to a dull roar, so forget hoarding up a lethal dose.

    You’re just screwed.

  34. SIV
    A doctor who knowingly assisted in the suicide of another, through writing scripts or otherwise, would have been prosecuted for murder in every jurisdiction in the US in prior to 1938. Do you dispute this (please do, please do).

  35. “What makes assissted suicide attractive is that by the time you’ve had the stroke and you’re wearing Depends (that someone else has to change) it’s too late to do yourself in without help.”

    Correct. That’s why it would be nice, if in that situation, to live in two of the more liberal states in the nation. Imagine if you lived in some theocratic/conservative shithole, like Georgia ;).

  36. Crow Eating Dumbass,

    You didn’t need a Doctor’s prescription for barbiturates until FDR signed the Act referenced above.Complete with a hyper link for you developmentally disabled PhDs.

  37. SIV
    Yes, yes. But if anyone knowingly assisted in the suicide of another, by the selling of barbs or otherwise, they could be charged with and convicted of murder in every state in 1938 and prior to the act you reference. It actually happened many times.

    Read that several times and then tell me how FDR created the problem making assisted suicide illegal.

  38. The big part of the Washington and Oregon acts is that part negating criminal or civil liability for knowingly assisting in the suicide of another. The latter was murder in every state, no matter how you assisted, until two of our more liberal states decided otherwise. Thank God for liberals, eh SIV?

  39. CEB,

    Don’t expect SIV to recognize a nuance like that.

    He’s just on a soapbox.

  40. Guns are quick and painless.

    When they work. People shot with handguns survive about 80-85% of the time. The percentage isn’t nearly that high in attempted suicides, of course, but it’s amazing how many people really don’t know exactly where the positively lethal shots are.

  41. NM
    If SIV were ever actually made to come to the conclusion that liberals were better than conservatives on any issue it would cause him to collapse in a state similar to a diver getting “the bends” so we have to think of his well being here…

  42. “Assisted Suicide in Washington”

    Voted for it….not my business how another wishes how to live (or end) their lives. Given how the feds prosecute pain docs, what other way do some folks have?

    Can’t resist the OT…. Speaking of Assisted Suicide: The urban areas of Washington just had help courtsey of Sound Transit in committing financial suicide with the passage of a boondoggle expansion of our light rail system. Something like 17 Billion (if you believe the official numbers) down the shit hole. Will be more like 50 billion most likely…… It’s getting high time to move to another state.

  43. CED,

    So you are saying that liberal ideas act like dissolved gases in SIV’s blood which literally burst out in bubbles when not contained by a constant ideological pressure?

    Sounds about right.

  44. Neu , Crow Eating Dumbass

    If you can buy drugs without a prescription you don’t need to be “assisted” in committing suicide.

  45. SIV,

    That whooshing noise is CED’s point going over your head.

  46. BTW,

    CED, how’s that crow taste?

    I didn’t get a chance to say “told ya so” about the whole “half-black guy with a funny sounding name is a bad choice” rut you were in…

  47. Neu
    It was never that I was turned off by Obama’s race or name, it was that I thought there was more petty-mindedness in America than there actually was. That’s crow I’ll eat anyday, and heartily. It’s a great day to be an American.

    As joe said the other day, has any other large Western democracy elected a black man to their highest office? We have a right to be very, very proud of our nation this week (we had many reasons to be proud before it mind you, but that does not lessen how big this is).

  48. “Given how the feds prosecute pain docs, what other way do some folks have?”

    Wait a minute – the solution to wicked laws making pain-relief illegal is to provide for *leagalized suicide*?

    Federalism means that the states get to legislate with respect to suicide and the practice of medicine, but that doesn’t mean it’s *right* to legalize suicide.

    Setting aside the minor issue that life has an intrinsic value which even the owner should not be allowed to deny, there’s the little issue of slippery slopes. In Libertarian Cloud-Cuckoo Land, we might talk about self-sufficient individuals ending their own lives valiantly like a Roman noble(wo)man who just lost a battle or got raped, or a Japanese Samurai who farted in the Shogun’s presence, but back in reality, imagine the actual impact on the health-care system (the mechanism by which, in practice, this assisted-suicide business will be managed). This is a system of third-party payments, where cost-cutting is a constant worry. So if a sick man’s family says, or can be prevailed upon to say, that he is suffering and wants to off himself, then the sick man could well agree (as is likely if he’s painfully ill and everyone around you wants you to die and get it over with, and the doctors, nurses and relatives subtly remind him of how much his continued existence is consting his family). And let’s not forget the whole thing about how a physician is supposed to preserve life, not end it, which is why the AMA doesn’t want doctors to take part even in the executions of guilty murderers. Not that doctors can’t be ethically flexible, as they’ve demonstrated in the case of abortion, and I’m sure they’ll be able to come around to euthanasia, too, if there’s money in it.

  49. I noticed the feds never challenged the use of barbiturates in execution of death by lethal injection. They don’t object to involuntary death, only voluntary death.

  50. Good to see a step towards more liberty no matter how small is it. It is really sad to see someone suffering so bad that all they can wish for is the relief of death, and the law is in their way. I have personally experienced it twice in my lifetime and it is not anything fun to see.

  51. If this law is only about letting people get prescriptions for drugs that can kill them, I’m fine with that. All for legalizing all drugs.

    Now if it allows someone else to administer the drugs to the person, not OK with that. Dr. Kevorkian, anyone?

    FWIW, if someone doesn’t want to jump through all the government hoops, there’s always sleeping pills and hard alcohol, guns, stopping eating food, etc. ad nauseam.

    Had a surreal conversation about this topic when the Hawaii State Legislature was considering a similar law, where I was leaning on a railing several stories up at the state legislature listening to some liberal bitch about how the gummint was keeping them from offing themself, when all they had to do was climb over the waist high railing we were leaning on and fall to a certain death. They were literally about 2 seconds away from dying if they so chose, and still yammering away about their lack of choice in the matter.

  52. People shot with handguns survive about 80-85% of the time. The percentage isn’t nearly that high in attempted suicides, of course, but it’s amazing how many people really don’t know exactly where the positively lethal shots are.

    Which is why shotguns are the much better choice.

  53. I live in a particularly conservative part of Washington state and i was a bit surprised at the support this initiative had here.

    I kept on trying to get conservatives to say that this is a bad evil bill.

    Most just told me if someone wants to die because of pain they should be able to, and that it is happening anyway so why not put a legal framework around it.

    Sometimes I really love the west and its libertarianish pragmatism.

  54. I live in WA and voted against it. Not only are the regulations offensive and selfdefeating, but the state is going to spend $79,000 tax dollars setting it up!

  55. “when all they had to do was climb over the waist high railing we were leaning on and fall to a certain death.”

    I once met this girl who tried to take her own life by throwing herself off the top of a multiple-story parking deck. Turns out it didn’t kill her, only cripple her, they would sometimes have her go to high schools to warn the students against suicide attempts.

  56. “I kept on trying to get conservatives to say that this is a bad evil bill.”

    Well, liberals like myself will have no lecturing from you about liberty anytime soon my friend!

    “Now if it allows someone else to administer the drugs to the person, not OK with that. Dr. Kevorkian, anyone?”

    Prol, see J sub D’s comment upthread. At times the terminally ill are in no position to drive to the local gun store and buy a gun, and perhaps not in any position to even put a shotgun in their mouth and pull the trigger.

    But more importantly they want to go out peacefully, and if they can find another person who is willing to help them with their expertise in drugs to do that what business is it of the state to intervene? I would think bodily integrity and autonomy would be a first principle of libertarianism, and this kind of decision strikes at the very heart of that.

  57. CED — Perhaps we’re not understanding each other. I’m OK with someone who is terminally ill hiring someone to rig up an assisted suicide rig device, explaining how it works, and showing them that all they have to do to end their life is push this one button.

    I’m so not OK with a third party pushing the button for the terminally ill person, since that makes it way too easy to commit murder and claim it was a suicide.

    And, no matter how physically incapacitated someone is, they can always order that all food or water be shut off, which will surely end their life.

    Basically, so long as the terminally ill person makes that last final decision to end their life by pushing a button or whatnot, however much assistance they’re given up to that point, there will be a clear line drawn between suicide and murder. It’s not a good idea to muddy that distinction and let sociopaths start legally killing people.

  58. I’m with you Don the Democrat. I too voted for this measure, and was impressed that it passed by a wider margin than Obama’s margin of victory in Washington state. I guess the religious fundamentalists were too distracted pushing Prop. 8 in California to pump too much money into frightening ads in Washington. That and the fact that the passage of the Oregon measure didn’t cause their social fabric to fall apart after all…

  59. I’m from Oregon and I love our law. Statistics show it isn’t abused or overused. Like any law it needs tweaks when some imperfections show up.

    I remember during the debate a Catholic friend earnestly explaining how he and others would want to preserve my life if I were terminally ill. I found this patronizing and infuriating. The idea that groups like the Catholic Church (and other opponent groups) which I’ve never affiliated with, and which certainly won’t be by my deathbed, will no doubt be “saving” me from afar just sends me through the roof. Worry about yourself.

  60. If there’s a will, there’s a way. Then again, if there’s a will and there’s a suicide, there’s likely to be a huge probate conflict.

  61. I hope this is the slippery slope that leads to euthanasia; for a while there it seemed like Hitler ruined that idea for everybody. Now more than ever we need renewed interest in euthanasia and sterrilization before our cities are overrun with ferral humans.

  62. “I’m so not OK with a third party pushing the button for the terminally ill person, since that makes it way too easy to commit murder and claim it was a suicide.”

    That sounds like a distinction the courts can make on their own, doesn’t it? You can’t just say “well, if we legalize this, it might increase the chance that a minority of people will find a way to exploit it” and consider that a SUFFICIENT argument for taking away EVERYONE’s rights. Everyone should have the right to do with their own body as they please. If they choose to have someone do it for them, for whatever reason, I don’t understand why that should be illegal either. There is no moral or ethical difference. Zero.

    “And, no matter how physically incapacitated someone is, they can always order that all food or water be shut off, which will surely end their life.”

    So instead of a painless, quick end to their lives, they have to suffer the agony of massive organ failure, all because you’re afraid a tiny number of people might try to use it to get away with murder?

  63. People like JacQuazia are the reason I wear a Glock like it was underwear.

  64. The Oregon law has worked very well for over a decade. Congratulations to the voters in Washington.

    Btw, “assisted suicide” is not a useful term. Physician aid in dying, or end of life choice are preferred.

  65. If you have a genetic disorder that guarantees your early and painful demise then you naturally embrace the option of checking out before it is beyond your control. Unless you have walked in the shoes of such a person please don’t judge it. Some of us are on borrowed time and we don’t wish to inflict upon others what we saw our parents and grandparents endure. I have supported assisted exits for years. Long before it was legalized in Oregon or Washington.

  66. The availability of physician assisted suicide should have a liberalizing effect on pain medication. Up to now the pro-pain lobby has had a monopoly. Imagine, we have been denying people pain medication during their final illnesses because it could lead to their dying while addicted? Does that make sense? And if you didn’t like their regulations limiting comfort for the the dying, what could you do? Now we have the alternative of dying.

    Why is this important? I believe that a surge in suicides will be met by easing the regulations about pain medication. People who have been fine with putting the dying in jail for taking illegal pain meds or jailing long time mates who assisted their loved ones on their final journeys, will hopefully prefer liberalization of the regulations to increasing the number of suicides.

  67. It was interesting for me to read all these comments. First, America does not deal with death very well. Second, not many of us have personal experience. Mine? My mother was totally healthy when she suffered from ALS at age 74. She died horribly because the doctor refused to up her morphine becuase “that would kill her”. What a jerk. And how stupid we are not to help people die instead of allowing them to be “tortured” so we can feel righteous!

  68. Foregive my ignorance, but can’t you just say you’re having trouble sleeping, get a prescription for sleeping pills, and swallow the whole bottle? An acquaintance of mine did that.

  69. CED | November 6, 2008, 8:07pm | #

    Neu
    It was never that I was turned off by Obama’s race or name, it was that I thought there was more petty-mindedness in America than there actually was. That’s crow I’ll eat anyday, and heartily. It’s a great day to be an American.

    As joe said the other day, has any other large Western democracy elected a black man to their highest office? We have a right to be very, very proud of our nation this week (we had many reasons to be proud before it mind you, but that does not lessen how big this is).

    NOW THAT’S RACISM! Just because of a person’s skin color makes this such a big deal? Racist.

  70. they were just called suicide booths. (:

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