In 2011, 70 dying patients had an assisted death and in 2010 this figure was 51 (0.1% of all deaths in Washington State that year). 2011 data as a percentage of all deaths is not available until up-to-date mortality statistics are available. It is to be expected that figures will initially rise as people become more aware of the choices available to them and people feel more able to discuss the issue. In Oregon, the numbers of assisted dying cases rose slowly and steadily, but have plateaued out at around 0.2% of all deaths over the past 5 years.
It’s important to remember that the assisted dying process consists of a number of criteria and safeguards (less than six months two live, voluntariness, mental capacity, palliative and supportive options have been explored etc.), all of which are verified by two doctors. Whilst there would be cause for concern if numbers sky-rocketed, it must not be forgotten that this is about the right of terminally ill people to die well. In 2011 in Washington, 83% of assisted dying patients were enrolled in hospice care at the time of death and nearly all died at home.
Being less able to engage in activities that make life enjoyable, losing autonomy and loss of dignity were the key end-of-life concerns of those who had an assisted death. As with Oregon, the majority of patients had cancer, with a smaller number having a neurological (such as MND) or respiratory conditions.
So what can we say from this data? Figures reflect general trends in Oregon, where evidence demonstrates that assisted dying has been practiced safely for the past 15 years. Begging the question why would it be any different in Britain?