Washington State is one of only three states in the country that has a Death with Dignity Act in place at this time (California’s Act will take effect in June). You may wonder, “How does this Act apply to me? Does my Health Care Directive need to specifically address my wishes regarding euthanasia?”

What is a Health Care Directive Anyway?

A health care directive (frequently called a “living will”) is a document that lays out your wishes for your health care. This will often discuss the types of medical treatment you would want or not want in various situations, such as whether you would want extraordinary measures taken to save your life. However, as different doctors could interpret “extraordinary” differently, it’s best to speak to an experienced attorney who can guide you through addressing each specific situation and ensure your directive is unambiguous and enforceable.

If you don’t have a health care directive, you will still receive medical treatment, but your family may be forced to make difficult decisions about your life without input into what you would prefer. If your family disagrees over what to do, your life could be prolonged against your will and your loved ones could even end up in court over the dispute. A directive provides direction to your physician and provides you some control over your life and death. This is particularly important if you have a religious belief against a certain type of medical treatment that you wish to be respected.

You are the Only Person who can Decide to Use the Death with Dignity Act

The Death with Dignity Act allows terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to request and self-administer lethal medications prescribed by a physician. The law has several safeguards built into it. Only patients who are competent adults who have been fully informed by a physician as to the consequences of this decision qualify for self-administered lethal medication under this law. Because the medication must be self-administered, life-ending medication can never be given under the Death with Dignity Act to an unconscious patient or a patient in a coma.

Because of the way the law is written, there is no need to address the Death with Dignity Act in your Health Care Directive. Your Directive is only meant to operate when you are not physically or mentally capable of making your own decisions. If your Directive is in operation, the Death with Dignity Act does not apply to you; no one can decide to actively end your life with lethal medication except you.

Contact an Experienced Attorney

An experienced attorney can address all your concerns about your health care directive and ensure that your wishes are clear. If you have any Washington state health care directive
questions, contact or call attorney Dan Kellogg at (425) 227-8700 today for assistance.