2009-05-28 / Local & State

Wash. State Has First Death Under New Suicide Law


OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - It took just a few weeks for the end of Linda Fleming's life to rush painfully into focus.

Diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer, Fleming pictured her last days filled with growing agony and the only relief coming from ever-stronger doses of medicine. She feared they'd dull her mind.

So, she took her own life last Thursday, becoming the first reported suicide under the state's new "death with dignity" law.

Fleming took a deadly dose of prescription barbiturates, dying Thursday night at her Sequim, Wash., home with family members, her physician and her dog at her side.

Compassion & Choices of Washington, an advocacy group that aids people who seek to use the law, announced her death.

Last November, Washington became the second state to have a voter-approved assisted suicide law. It is based on a law adopted by Oregon voters in 1997. Since then, about 400 people have used the Oregon law to end their lives.

Under the Washington law, any patient requesting fatal medication must be at least 18, declared mentally competent and be a resident of the state.

Additionally, two doctors must certify that the patient has a terminal condition and six months or less to live, and the patient must make two oral requests 15 days apart, plus a written request that is witnessed by two people.

Under the Washington measure, as in Oregon, doctors and pharmacists are not required to write or fill lethal prescriptions if they oppose the law. Some hospitals have opted out, which precludes their doctors from participating on hospital property.

A physician prescribed the medication to her, but under the law, patients must administer the drugs themselves.

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