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Heated Washington debate could give choice to terminally ill patients

This November election will bring up a very personal issue for residents of Washington state.

Initiative 1000 would allow doctors to perscribe lethal doses of medication for terminally ill patients seeking to hasten their deaths, the Seattle Times reported.

Currently, Oregon is the only state with a law that allows doctors to give medical help for the sole reason of death to dying patients. Washington is the only state with this type of proposal on this year's ballot.

This is not the first time for a physician-assistance-in-dying initiative in the state of Washington. In 1991, Initiative 119 was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns at that time. Initiative 119 would have allowed doctors to perscribe and administer lethal drugs.

What makes I-1000 different is that patient's would self-administer, or "digest", a lethal dose of medication. Doctors would perscribe the medicine, but not administer them, as closely modeled on Oregon's law.

By having patient's self-administer the drug, doctors are avoiding a state law against assisting a suicide.

Former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner, who has Parkinson's disease, began the campaign in 2006.

"When the day comes when I can no longer keep busy, and I'm a burden to my wife and kids, I want to be able to control my exit," he said at the time.

In order to be eligible for I-1000, patients must be free of depression, able to exercise sound judgment and have less than six months to live in order to obtain a lethal prescription. A counter argument, though, is that doctors are often wrong about life expectancy.

Nancy Niedzielski watched her husband die painfully and slowly of brain cancer in 2006 and wants other patients to be able to avoid this.

"Nobody knows what they're going to want in the future," Niedzielski told the Seattle Times, who gathered more than 1,700 signatures for the initiative. "This is about giving people options and choice, because none of us knows how we're going to die."