"Before these laws were enacted, one of the concerns in the suicide prevention community was that these laws would be promoted," Kennedy said. And, while he was pleased to see that there was no such promotion, he still has concerns about physician-assisted death programs.
He noted that most of the people who participated in the program were older, white males. As a group, older, white males tend to have higher than normal suicide rates, even without a terminal diagnosis, according to Kennedy.
While one of the requirements of the law is that someone must be competent and free of mental illness that could impair their judgment, Kennedy said it can be difficult to diagnose depression in terminally ill patients. It wasn't clear from the study if people only met with social workers, or if they were referred to psychologists or psychiatrists, according to Kennedy.
The good news, he said, is that "this law has not led to a whole rush to suicide in the terminally ill."
Trice Loggers reiterated: "Our job is to cure cancer. But, there are situations where we just can't do that. Among those who opted for Death With Dignity, the number using hospice was 80 percent or greater. They were able to include their family and to die at home, which is consistent with how most people say they want to die."
"It's important to remember that in Washington, this law was passed by referendum. Approximately 60 percent of voters said this was an appropriate end-of-life decision," she noted.
Learn more about Washington's Death With Dignity Act.
SOURCES: Elizabeth Trice Loggers, M.D., Ph.D., oncologist and medical director, palliative care, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and assistant member, Fred Hutchin
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