The District of Columbia Death with Dignity Act allows an adult D.C. resident who is terminally ill (i.e., medically confirmed to have less than six months to live) to request medication to voluntarily end his or her life.
In order for a patient to participate in the Death with Dignity program, the following requirements must be met:
- The patient must be capable of communicating health care decisions to health care providers on his or her own; an agent may not make the request on behalf of a patient.
- The patient must make two oral requests (separated by at least 15 days) and one written request to an attending physician.
- The written request requires two witnesses, one of whom cannot be a relative, someone entitled to a portion of the patient’s estate, or an owner or employee of the health care facility where the patient is being treated. The D.C. Department of Health website provides a form that can be used for the written request.
- The patient’s physician must make a determination that the patient is not suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment.
If the patient meets all requirements, and his or her physician determines that the patient has a terminal illness, made the request voluntarily, and is not suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression, the physician can dispense the requested medication (if licensed to do so) or write the prescription for the medication. The patient must ingest the medication on his or her own.
The Death with Dignity Act does not require any changes to existing wills, advance health care directives, or other estate planning documents.
To learn more about the law, D.C. residents can visit the D.C. Department of Health website.