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Initiative 1000: No show stoppers

Post by Kim Bradford on Oct. 20, 2008 at 8:00 pm with No Comments »
October 20, 2008 8:00 pm

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Voters who want the option of physician-assisted suicide should feel comfortable voting for the Death with Dignity Act.

No matter what you call it – death with dignity, assisted suicide or the right to die – the decision by terminally ill adults to end their lives should be theirs alone under the right circumstances.

A state rightfully intercedes only when personal autonomy threatens the greater good. We’re convinced that Initiative 1000 doesn’t trigger that tipping point.

Both sides of the debate over allowing physicians to help hasten patients’ deaths hold sincere, principled positions rooted in respect for human life.

While The News Tribune’s editorial board remains uneasy about enabling doctors to help patients die, we see no decisive reason to interfere in what is a deeply personal issue.

I-1000 would allow (but not require) doctors to write lethal-dose prescriptions for adult patients deemed to have terminal diseases and less than six months to live.

Critics charge that physician-assisted suicide could prey on the vulnerable by pressuring the poor, elderly and disabled to take their lives rather than become burdens. Such concerns cannot be entirely dismissed, but they don’t carry the day.

In the decade since Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law took effect, none of opponents’ worst fears has come to pass. The Oregonian editorial board, which fundamentally opposes physician-assisted suicide, wrote last month: ". . . our deepest concerns were unfounded. Safeguards built into the law appear to be working."

I-1000 adopts those same safeguards, making it a far cry from Initiative 119, an unsuccessful 1991 measure that would have allowed doctors to not only prescribe but also administer the lethal dose.

Reports from the Oregon Public Health Division show that of the few patients who have used Oregon’s assisted suicide law, nearly all had Medicare or private insurance. Most were white, and half had a college education.

What’s more, long-sought advances in end-of-life care have occurred since (some would say because of) the passage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. The state ranks ninth among states for hospice utilization.

Oregon’s track record provides enough assurance that a similar Death with Dignity Act in Washington would not open the floodgates to abuse and provide an excuse to cut corners on health care for the terminally ill.

That said, the act could use beefier public disclosure and mental evaluation requirements. I-1000 would forbid the state from recording assisted suicides on death certificates, limiting public scrutiny of the practice.

The measure also allows doctors to attest to a patient’s mental state without the benefit of a psychiatric evaluation.

State lawmakers should address such concerns if I-1000 passes. The initiative isn’t perfect, but it comes close enough to be a good option for Washington voters who find comfort in the ability to decide when and how they will die.

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