Dying woman mulls options as Washington’s Death With Dignity Act takes effect

When doctors told Barbara McKay she would probably not live much longer, she began to think about how she would end her life. “I was very determined I was not going to allow myself to get to the point where I couldn't care for myself because I didn't want to put my family in that position,” the Kirkland resident recalled of when she was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer seven years ago.

Barbara McKay

When doctors told Barbara McKay she would probably not live much longer, she began to think about how she would end her life.

“I was very determined I was not going to allow myself to get to the point where I couldn’t care for myself because I didn’t want to put my family in that position,” the Kirkland resident recalled of when she was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer seven years ago.

McKay, 60, spoke with her family about her end-of-life choices, but knew when the time came she could not allow them to be with her because she didn’t want them to get in trouble for assisting her in any way.

So when Washington’s Death with Dignity Act took effect March 5, McKay was relieved.

The voter-approved initiative (I-1000), which models an Oregon act, allows doctors to prescribe lethal medication for a mentally competent adult with a terminal condition that is expected to be fatal within six months. The patient must self-administer the drugs.

Some opponents, who refer to the law as “physician-assisted suicide,” say that people facing death need caring and compassion, not lethal medication.

Others, such as Bellevue probate lawyer Theresa Schrempp, say there is no safeguard in the measure to protect patients from financial or elderly abuse. She is also concerned that there is no requirement of a witness at the time of death.

More than 400 people have ended their life under the Oregon initiative since it took effect in 1997.

McKay has publicly signed a letter to her physician indicating her wish to take life-ending medication if necessary and when she chooses, to help her achieve a “peaceful” and “gentle” death. Compassion & Choices of Washington, a nonprofit organization that advocates for better end-of-life care and choices, created the form to help patients start the conversation with physicians.

“With terminal illness, it’s difficult to be in a position where you don’t have control over your body,” said McKay.

She said she understands Death with Dignity is not for everybody and “everyone has opinions on what’s important to them.”

McKay’s husband and children have been supportive of her choice to die with dignity, which she fears could be soon.

After a two-year break from chemotherapy, McKay recently found out her tumors have tripled and spread to her lungs.

“I hope to live for many more years,” she said, “But when my time comes, I want to be able to choose my time and my way.”

Carrie Wood is editor of the Kirkland Reporter.

More in News

Some King County elected leaders want to spend $180 million on maintenance upkeep at Safeco Field in Seattle. Photo by HyunJae Park/Flickr
King County leaders want to allocate $180 million to Safeco Field

But once councilmember thinks funding for affordable housing and the arts should come before subsidizing stadium maintenance.

Barricaded suspect safely taken into custody

Bellevue man wanted for two outstanding felony burglary warrants.

‘Businesses beware’

Misleading letter calls for annual registration renewals in attempts to fraud local businesses.

King County considers buying 65,000 acres for conservation

The proposed plan would protect forests, trails, shorelines, and farms.

A sign posted by Save DeLeo Wall along May Valley Road Southeast. Aaron Kunkler/Staff photo
DNR approves DeLeo Wall logging permit in Newcastle

Despite opposition from community members the state has approved a clearcutting permit for 28 acres.

Suspects rob Little Store at gunpoint | Police blotter for May 10-13

This is not a comprehensive list of incidents in Bellevue.

Tips for staying safe around Washington wildlife

In the wake of a deadly cougar attack near North Bend here’s some tips on staying safe.

Workers install girders as part of a previous project in 2012 along westbound SR 520. Reporter File Photo
Worker dies after fall along SR 520

The accident occurred at a construction site near the 148th Avenue Northeast interchange.

Roza Irrigation District manager Scott Revell inspects a water gauge in the lower Yakima Valley. If a drought pump is installed in Kachess Lake it would mean a more reliable source of water for crops in the valley. Aaron Kunkler/Staff photo
Puget Sound residents worried about Kachess Lake plan

A pump to supply much-needed water to Eastern Washington during droughts could affect recreation.

Most Read