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Sunnyside Community Hospital says no to 'Death with Dignity' measure

Sunnyside Community Hospital CEO Jon Smiley released a statement yesterday, Wednesday, stating that the Sunnyside hospital will not conform to Washington's Initiative 1000, the Death with Dignity act.

"After careful, thoughtful conversations with our medical staff, board of trustees and patients, Sunnyside Community Hospital has chosen to not participate under the Washington state death with dignity act," Smiley said.

What it boils down to is any physicians, employees, independent contractors and volunteers at the hospital will not assist a patient in ending his or her life.

"In addition," Smiley said, "no provider may participate on the premises of the hospital or in property owned by the hospital. Providers who violate this policy could be sanctioned by the hospital."

The new law allows hospitals to opt out of Initiative 1000, according to hospital spokesman Tom Lathen. The only requirement is that the hospital informs the community it is serving.

Although the hospitals can opt out they can't prevent employees from taking part in Initiative 1000 on their own time. This also applies if a hospital decides to participate in the initiative, the hospital cannot force its staff to take part.

The law goes into effect March 4 and Lathen said there has been no indication any providers will be leaving the hospital over this decision. As far as sanctions go, Lathen said nothing has been determined on what they might be, or if they would even be given out.

"We don't really anticipate it being an issue around here," he added.

According to a press release, Sunnyside Community Hospital will continue to provide compassionate, high quality care to all patients. For any patient at the hospital who wishes to receive life-ending medication in compliance with Initiative 1000, then the hospital's providers are obligated to openly discuss the patient's concerns, unmet needs, feelings and desires about the dying process. The hospital will also transport the patient to a hospital that will provide life-ending medication.

Although early, Lathen said he hasn't heard of any providers indicating they will contract their services off hospital property to assist with a patient's death.

"This wasn't a moral judgment," Lathen said. "Seventy percent of the precincts around Sunnyside didn't support the initiative. That's the main reason for the decision."

Smiley concurred.

"We have heard from our board, and many others in the community, that this act does not meet the standards of a majority of people in our community," Smiley said. "We have always supported Hospice care for those in the end stages of life and we believe this new law will give us further standing to encourage Hospice care, and pain management control for those nearing death due to serious illness.

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