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How the Death with Dignity Act works

1) An adult patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness and determined to have six months or less to live.

2) The patient asks his or her doctor for a lethal prescription. The doctor is required to discuss other end-of-life care options, including palliative care and hospice, and to assess the patient’s mental competence before moving to the next step. If the doctor has moral qualms, the doctor can, but does not have to, refer the patient to another physician for the prescription.

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3) A second doctor must confirm the initial diagnosis and prognosis, verify that the patient is mentally competent, and affirm that the patient is seeking the prescription voluntarily.

4) Once the two doctors have reviewed the patient’s medical condition and mental competence, the patient makes a written request for the prescription. The request has to be witnessed by two people, including one who is not a relative, entitled to a portion of the patient’s estate, or an owner, operator, or employee of the patient’s health care facility. It must be made at least 48 hours before receiving the prescription.

5) The patient must reiterate his or her oral request after at least 15 days, at which point the doctor is required to offer the patient the option of rescinding the request. The patient receives the prescription.  

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