Washington state has first death under new suicide law
A 66-year-old woman from Sequim is the first person to die under the state's new assisted-suicide law.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The 66-year-old Sequim woman who is the first person to die under Washington's new assisted-suicide law had only recently been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and decided to end her life when her pain became unbearable, according to the organization that sponsored the law.
Linda Fleming died Thursday night after taking drugs prescribed under the "Death with Dignity" law that took effect in March, Compassion & Choices of Washington announced this morning.
Her daughter visited and brought Fleming's beloved Chihuahua Seri to see her one last time, said Sharon Lake, a neighbor in The Vintage, a Sequim apartment complex for seniors.
"Linda knew she was going to go up to God yesterday," said Lake, who signed documents attesting to her friend's ability to make the decision to end her life.
Lake initially balked at assisting.
"I'm religious," said the former dairy farmer. "I wondered, would God forgive us for that?"
But after conferring with her Lutheran minister, she agreed.
"It was very hard on me, but I know this is truly what she wanted to do," Lake said.
Fleming's friend Virginia Peterhansen said that after Fleming was diagnosed last month with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, her disease progressed rapidly and her pain worsened dramatically.
It became difficult for Fleming to swallow and the medications sapped her energy.
"The pain became unbearable, and it was only going to get worse," Fleming said in a statement released today by Compassion & Choices of Washington.
Peterhansen and Fleming last saw each other on Wednesday. "We talked about how much she was missing her dog, how much I was going to miss her," Peterhansen said.
Fleming took the medication Thursday evening at her home, with her family, her dog and her physician at her bedside, the organization said.
"I am a very spiritual person and it was very important to me to be conscious, clear-minded and alert at the time of my death," Fleming is quoted as saying in the news release. "The powerful pain medications were making it difficult to maintain the state of mind I wanted to have at my death.
"I had only recently learned how to live in the world as I had always wanted to, and now I will no longer be there," Fleming said in the news release. "So my fatal disease arrived at a most inopportune time."
Peterhansen said Fleming enjoyed working with clay and was learning contra dancing. She had recently purchased a car, and loved walking with friends and her dog on Dungeness Spit.
Fleming had moved to Sequim from Port Angeles about a year ago.
"It's a pretty tight-knit community here," said neighbor Virginia Lloyd. "It's about 95 to 99 percent women in this complex."
The new law was approved in November with a nearly 60 percent vote. It is based on Oregon's measure, which passed in 1997. Since then, about 401 people have used the Oregon law to end their lives.
As in Oregon, under the Washington state measure, physicians and pharmacists are not required to write or fill lethal prescriptions if they are opposed to the law. Some hospitals have opted out of the law, which precludes their doctors from participating on hospital property.
Under the Washington law, any patient requesting fatal medication must be at least 18, declared competent and be a resident of the state.
Two doctors must certify that a patient has a terminal condition and six months or less to live.
To comply with the law, a number of forms are required for each patient, but doctors have 30 days to file the forms after the prescription for lethal medication is filled.
As of Friday, the state Department of Health had received six forms from pharmacists saying they have dispensed the life-ending drugs.
The state also has received five forms from an individual requesting medication to "end my life in a humane and dignified manner," and five doctors have completed forms complying with the rules of the new law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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