Physician-assisted death has been legal in Washington, D.C., since February 2017, but no patients have been prescribed the life-ending drugs, and people who want them say they can’t find doctors to prescribe them.
Mary Klein is dying of cancer. She worked with advocates to get the D.C. Council to pass the death with dignity law last year.
Now she’s looking for a doctor who will prescribe the drugs, but they’ve all said no.
“I’ll be meeting with the fifth one later today,” she said.
Eleven patients have contacted the group Compassion & Choices looking for a doctor to prescribe the drugs.
“We basically have a law in place that’s meaningless, because there are just too many regulatory roadblocks in place,” Compassion & Choices CEO Kim Callinan said.
The D.C. Department of Health issued regulations requiring doctors and patients register with the government.
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Klein and others say those registration requirements are keeping doctors from prescribing the drugs.
“The anxiety and lack of certainty of not knowing whether I will be able to obtain this legal medication is very difficult for me,” Klein said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel, who signed the law allowing physician-assisted deaths, defended the Department of Health requirements but added her administration is willing to work through issues with the new policy.
“I don’t think saying that we’re going to have a registration regime is at all onerous,” she said.
Two doctors have registered in D.C., but those records are confidential, so patients don’t know who they are.
Similar registration is required for medical marijuana in the District, and 5,000 patients and 300 doctors have registered. While those registrations also are confidential, marijuana dispensaries have compiled lists of registered doctors and provided them to patients.
None of the seven states that allow physician-assisted suicide require registration like D.C.’s registration.
With less than six months to live, Klein will continue to look for a doctor to help her and patients like her.
“We need to have doctors who will support wishes like my wish for the medication for a peaceful death,” she said.