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Washington Death with Dignity Act: A History


The first significant initiative in Washington state to legalize some form of physician-assisted dying, Initiative 119 sought to allow euthanasia by lethal injection. The initiative failed 46 to 54 percent.


On March 6, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, in Washington v. Glucksberg, a district court’s decision holding unconstitutional the state of Washington’s ban on physician-assisted dying. The case was the first of its kind to be decided by a full federal appeals court. By holding that the ban on physician-assisted suicide violates the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the ruling created an opening for a physician-assisted dying law to be enacted in the future.


On June 16, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled to reverse the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Washington v. Glucksberg. The Court thus held that assisted suicide, not being a fundamental liberty interest, was not protected under the 14th Amendment.


On April 8, 2005, our board of directors made a decision to identify partners in Washington and pursue a 2008 ballot initiative, before any other organization identified Washington as a possibility.


A coalition—individuals from the state of Washington, Death with Dignity National Center, Compassion & Choices, and Compassion & Choices of Washington—first convened on February 24, 2006, to discuss a potential Washington Death with Dignity initiative.

Polls show support for Death with Dignity among state residents stood at 64%.


The campaign officially launched on August 23, 2007, with the Coalition’s vote to establish the It’s My Decision Committee. The Oregon Death with Dignity Political Action Fund (now Death with Dignity Political Fund) donated $200,000 in seed money to jumpstart the campaign, and Eli Stutsman, a Portland-based attorney and lead drafter of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, authored the Washington Death with Dignity Act.


On January 24, 2008, former Washington Governor Booth Gardner filed the initiative with the Secretary of State’s office in Washington. A month later the It’s My Decision Committee was renamed Yes on I-1000.

From March to June, 2008, more than 3,600 volunteers gathered signatures for the initiative to be put on the ballot (paid staff were also used to gather signatures). On July 2, Gov. Gardner turned in over 317,000 signatures, nearly 100,000 more than needed to make it onto the ballot. The Secretary of State certified the measure on August 13, and Initiative 1000 was put on the November 2008 ballot.

Gov. Booth Gardner donated $300,000 to the Yes on I-1000 campaign, making him the largest single contributor to the campaign.

The Oregon Death with Dignity Fund donated $615,000 to the campaign, the largest campaign contribution from a single organization; our family of organizations contributed a total of $930,000, or 19% of total (166 Catholic parishes, dioceses, and organizations from 40 different states donated a total of $805,518 to the opposition campaign). We also contributed in kind, including more than 1,100 hours of staff time on the ground and in our Portland, Oregon, headquarters, budgets, political strategy, proprietary polling data, legal expertise, convening of the task force, authorship of the statute, in the stated and hundreds Our contribution totaled $1,577,700, nearly 75% of our total organizational resources throughout the two-year span of the campaign.

In all, the Yes on I-1000 campaign raised $4,890,020, the first time in the history of the Death with Dignity movement that the proponent’s fundraising exceeded that of the opponents.

On November 4, 2008, Washington voters went to the polls and made Washington the second state in the nation to enact a Death with Dignity law. Exit polls showed that 49% of Protestants, 47% of Catholics, and 79% “no religion” voters voted in favor.


The Washington Death with Dignity Act went into effect on March 5, 2009.


In the 2017 legislative session, four Republican and one Democratic State Senators proposed SB 5433 which would add “the treatment for the purpose of cure and the treatment for the purpose of extending the patient’s life” to the feasible alternatives the attending physician would have to inform a requesting patient about under the Washington Death with Dignity Act. The bill passed in the Senate on March 7 on a 26 to 23 vote. The bill was then reintroduced in the 2018 session, and did not advance.