Additional safeguards have been put in place at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance that include no advertising of the program, no new patients whose sole purpose is to access the Death With Dignity program and voluntary participation by physicians and other staff members.
From March 2009 through December 2011, 114 patients at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance asked about the Death With Dignity program. Of these, 44 chose not to pursue the program at all.
Another 30 people initiated the process, but either chose not to continue to the next step, or died in the interim.
Forty patients received a prescription for a lethal dose of secobarbital, a powerful sedative. Twenty-four patients died after ingesting the medication. On average, the time from ingestion to death was 35 minutes. The remaining 16 patients chose not to use their prescription and eventually died from their cancer.
Those who participated were mostly married white males with more than a high school education. Their ages ranged from 42 to 91, according to the study authors. All had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The most common reasons people cited for participating in the program were loss of autonomy, an inability to engage in enjoyable activities and a loss of dignity.
"Each year, there are over 50,000 deaths in Washington state, and cancer is the second leading cause of death. The number who chose to participate in the Death With Dignity program is miniscule. This study shows that people are not making these decisions lightly," Trice Loggers said. She added that patients and their families have expressed gratitude for the program.
Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said he thought the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance took great care to be as neutral as
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