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Death with Dignity law takes effect March 4

Now that state voters have approved Initiative 1000, the "death with dignity" or "doctor-assisted suicide" law, the legal process to implement the law begins prior to its effective date of March 4.

"I don't think any doctor is going to move on it until the legalese is translated, which is rather extensive," said Dawna Zullo of Sequim, Clallam County coordinator for the Yes on I-1000 campaign.

Initiative 1000, the Washington Death with Dignity Act, was approved by state voters with a 58.6 percent "yes" vote in the Nov. 4 general election. It allows competent, terminally ill adult residents with six or fewer months to live who obtain signatures from two witnesses and two doctors to obtain a prescription for a lethal dose of medication, which they could administer themselves.

It is copied from an Oregon law that has been on the books for 10 years.

Robb Miller, executive director of Compassionate Choices of Washington, said prior to the March 4 date when the law takes effect, there's an implementation process spearheaded by the state Department of Health.

The process will spell out the rules and regulations and processes regarding how the law is applied and how it works, he said.

The Oregon State Department of Human Services' Web site shows the forms used by participants in the process, including the primary doctor, consulting doctor, mental health provider and pharmacist, Miller said.

"It shows what we'll create for implementation of the law. So we're not reinventing the wheel. We're using a lot of what Oregon has already done," he said.

"It's quite a lengthy bureaucratic process but we must be consistent with the statute. We are going to be the steward and protector of the law. We will be involved in every step of the process," Miller said.

"We are the organization that folks interested in using the law should contact. We've been here 20 years and now that we have the law, we can continue to do so," he said.

In Oregon, 75 percent of those who used the law did so with the assistance of Compassionate Choices, Miller said.

According to the Compassion and Choices of Washington Web site, the group "provides advocacy, counseling and emotional support to qualified individuals who desire a peaceful, humane death."

The Oregon Death with Dignity Act requires the Oregon Department of Human Services to collect information on compliance with the law and provide it to the public in an annual statistical report.

So the Washington State Department of Health will gather that information through its existing Center for Health Statistics, said spokesman Tim Church.

"We are required to report on the law's application and we'll be sharing that information at the end of the year," he said.

The estimated cost of putting I-1000's reporting requirements place will be $79,000 over two years, Church said.

A one-time cost of $60,000 will be laying out the rules for the information reporting process and another $19,000 will pay for gathering and reporting the information, he said.

Then ongoing reporting costs will be $10,000 a year, Church said.

There's no funding included in the initiative so DOH officials will talk to the Legislature about that, he said.

"The initiative itself already lays out the process for the health care provider and the safeguards. So we won't really be involved in that piece," Church said.

"We already have a system to ensure health care providers are following safe practices, so the law allows providers to be involved in assisted suicide," he said.

The law will exempt health care providers from legal action by the state for taking part in an assisted suicide, Church said.

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