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Published:May 22nd, 2009 19:18 EST

Washington Sees First Death Through New Assisted Suicide Law

By Christopher HIllenbrand

After experiencing a losing battle with pancreatic cancer, 66-year-old Linda Fleming became the first individual to be euthanized under Washington State`s new assisted suicide law, according to an activist organization on Friday.

protesters for doctor-assisted suicide

The Compassion & Choices of Washington said the woman, who lived in Sequim, passed away on Thursday night after administering herself the lethal drugs that were prescribed in compliance with the "Death with Dignity" which went into effect in March.

statistics on assisted suiide

A group spokesperson said Fleming was only diagnosed with the deadly disease last month when the cancer had already progressed into its advanced stages. Patients submitting to assisted suicide in the state would need two doctors to diagnose their condition as terminal. Usually when a patient is considered as terminal, he or she only has a maximum of six months to live and is unable to improve with the help of medical treatments. Once a patient is diagnosed with a terminal condition, he or she must also voice two oral requests 15 days apart from each other, and submit a written plea with two eyewitnesses confirming that the letter is genuine.

The group announced that Fleming slipped away peacefully in the company of her family, her dog and her doctor who stayed at her bedside.

Prior to her suicide, Fleming made a statement to Compassion & Choices to be publicized once she had died.

In her statement, she wrote: "The pain became unbearable, and it was only going to get worse."

The bill proposing the new law was first approved last November by a favorable 60 percent of the state`s lawmakers. Washington`s neighbor, Oregon, passed a similar law into effect in 1997, which is responsible for the deaths of 400 terminally ill patients.

Under the new law, physicians must prescribe the mortal dose of euthanasia drugs, but patient receiving the prescription must take the drug themselves.

One stipulation of both states` laws decrees that medical practitioners and pharmacists can not be forced to prescribe or fill prescription orders for life-ending drugs if they possess moral objections against the law. Hospitals also have the right to decide whether or not to abide by the law, which some facilities have chosen not to follow; physicians practicing in such hospitals would then have to leave the premises to see patients wanting suicide treatments.

Another detail of the law requires patients must be 18 or older, of a competent mental state, and to be a resident of Washington.

By Friday, The state`s Department of Health reported that there have been six filings from pharmacists stating they had already filled out drug orders used for euthanasia.

State officials also announced that they`ve received five forms on separate occasions from one person, asking for suicide medication to "end my life in a humane and dignified manner."

Coinciding with the law going into practice, the Washington Department of Health will file annual reports on the ages, genders, and diseases of those who requested assisted suicide with the state, though the private forms individuals complete are confidential due to open records laws in the state.

A Montana district judge in December judged in favor of legalizing doctor-assisted suicides in the state. The adjudication was the result of a private lawsuit, not ensuant from a state law or a motion forwarded by voters. The case has been brought before the Montana Supreme Court.

As of Friday, 35 U.S.states have statutes on the books clearly defining any sort of assisted suicide as illegal.