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West Coast Continues Flirt with Euthanasia

Joke as we may about the avant garde viewpoints of those who live on the west coast, what starts there eventually moves inward. There is disturbing news in three states that continue their flirtation with assisted suicide and euthanasia.

In Washington State, work continues to gain over 300,000 signatures by July 3 to put a question on the November 4 ballot asking the citizens to legalize Oregon-style assisted suicide. The promoters have hired people to gather signatures and most think they will succeed. Millions of dollars are flowing into Washington to promote the measure known as Initiative 1000.

Valiantly opposing the initiative is a coalition of medical, disability rights, and religious groups. Underfunded, they are waging an aggressive grassroots campaign to educate and motivate the citizens to vote down Initiative 1000. Recently a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, consisting of four Democrats and 11 Republicans, joined the fight with a statement urging residents not to sign petitions. Governor Chris Gregoire also opposes the measure. Senator Margarita Prentice, a Democrat, succinctly summed up the reasons for opposing the measure: “It has virtually no protection for low-income and vulnerable people from being pressured into prematurely ending their life….physicians can prescribe lethal drugs to patients who are depressed or mentally ill… not one patient in Oregon was referred for psychological counseling.”

Speaking of Oregon, the only state where assisted suicide is legal, several important articles written on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of legalization reveal that supposed safeguards in the law to protect patients indicate they are not working. Of special concern are patients with mental illness or depression who are given lethal drugs rather than referrals for treatment. Drs. Herbert Hendin and Kathleen Foley write in an article to be published in the Michigan Law Review, Volume 10, Issue 8, June, 2008 that “the problem lies primarily with the Oregon Public Health Division (“OPHD”) which is charged with monitoring the law. OPHD does not collect the information it would need to effectively monitor the law and in its actions and publications acts as the defender of the law rather than as the protector of the welfare of terminally ill patients.”

Not to be forgotten is California where efforts stalled in the past two legislative sessions to legalize assisted suicide. The authors of the assisted suicide legislation have switched tactics and are now pushing a “stealth” bill which contains a loophole allowing medical professionals to turn palliative sedation into a treatment which permits assisted suicide.

Read more about palliative sedation in tomorrow’s entry.

Barbara Lyons

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