More Training Needed for Washington’s Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1608

In Whatcom County, which VSED Resources Northwest calls home, the only hospital is run by a faith-based healthcare system that chooses not to medically support Washington State’s Death with Dignity law. In the past, both patients and medical providers have been confused about what the hospital’s responsibility is to offer accurate information and referral information to patients who want to explore medical aid-in-dying (MAID). Some providers have been reluctant to refer patients on to End of Life Washington or other counseling and support agencies due to a fear of negative repercussions in their workplace. As a result, many Whatcom County patients have not been afforded the opportunity to make an informed choice about their end-of-life options.

In June 2020, HB 1608 was signed into law. This bill specifies that while health care entities have the choice to opt out of participating in prescribing the medications or medically supporting a patient’s choice for death with dignity, they “…may not discharge, demote, suspend, discipline, or otherwise discriminate against health care providers for providing to their patients medically accurate information within scope as described or information relating to the Death with Dignity Act.”

The good news is that HB 1608 specifically protects providers who provide information and referrals about end-of-life choices, and, by implication, also asserts that patients have the right to receive “medically accurate information” about all end-of-life options, including Death with Dignity. However, while this law was passed nearly three years ago, more provider and community training needs to be done to educate providers about their duty to provide full and accurate information and appropriate referrals, and to inform patients about their right to have access to this information.

The Washington State Department of Health has published a one-page handout that health care professionals can print and use for easy reference: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/2300/2020/Providing-Information-to-Patients-HB1608-2020.pdf

In November 2022, the Palliative Care Institute hosted a webinar on the challenges of supporting those seeking Medical Aid in Dying in faith-based institutions. You can find a link to the video recording of this webinar at the Palliative Care Institute’s digital archive.  I encourage you to browse the other listings there as well.

– Marie Eaton, VRNW, PCI