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WASHINGTON will become only the second US state to allow assisted suicide as its new "death with dignity" law takes effect.
Under a ballot measure passed during November elections, physicians in the northwest state will be allowed to write prescriptions for lethal doses of drugs for terminally ill patients who have less than six months to live.
Only one other US state - Oregon - has similar legislation, although a court in Montana recently ruled that terminally ill patients had the right to seek physician-assisted suicide.
Supporters of the new Washington legislation, made possible by a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling, say the law allows for "aided dying" rather than assisted suicide or euthanasia.
"Aided dying is neither euthanasia nor suicide," said Terry Barnett, president of the Washington branch of Compassion & Choices advocacy group.
"It's not euthanasia because euthanasia implies action by a physician to end a patient's life. It's not suicide because people who choose aid in dying are not choosing to end their lives.
"They don't want to die - they're choosing to end suffering that cannot be relieved and suffering that they are experiencing that is worse than death."
Supporters of the law say a string of stringent checks and balances have been put in place to prevent the system being abused, rejecting critics who argue the law will make it easy for sufferers to choose to die.