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Washington State Assisted Suicide Law Takes Effect This Week

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Starting later this week, Washington state patients with less than six months to live will be able to ask their doctors to prescribe them lethal medication. But under the "Death with Dignity" law, which takes effect Thursday, doctors and pharmacists aren't required to write or fill lethal prescriptions.

"There are a lot of doctors, who in principle, would approve or don't mind this, but for a lot of social or professional reasons, they don't want to be involved," Dr. Tom Preston, a retired cardiologist and board member of Compassion & Choices, told the Associated Press.

The aid-in-dying advocacy group campaigned for and supports the new law, which was approved by nearly 60 percent of state voters in November, making Washington the second state, behind Oregon, to legalize assisted suicide.

Compassion & Choices is compiling a directory of doctors and pharmacies willing to write and fill prescriptions for lethal drugs, executive director Robb Miller told the AP.

A terminally-ill patient in Washington who wants life-ending medication must be at least 18 years old, declared competent and a state resident. Patients must make two oral requests, 15 days apart, and submit a written request witnessed by two people. One of those witnesses must not be a relative, heir, attending physician, or connected with a health facility where the patient lives.

In addition, two doctors must certify that the patient has six months or less to live. Doctors and pharmacists who write and fill prescriptions for lethal medications must file a copy of the record with the state health department, which is mandated to prepare an annual report on how the assisted suicide law is used, the AP reported.

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