Groups Voice Opposition Against Assisted Suicide Initiative

Several groups, representing medical physicians to people with disabilities, are voicing strong opposition against an initiative filed Wednesday by a former Washington governor that would make the state the second in the nation to legalize assisted suicide.

Under the "Washington Death with Dignity Initiative," launched by former Gov. Booth Gardner, Washington residents who have less than six months to live would be able to request from a doctor a prescription of legal drugs to end their life.

Backers of the measure have until July to collect about 225,000 from state residents to put the issue on the November 2008 ballot.

Gardner, 71, who has Parkinson's disease, modeled the initiative after Oregon's assisted suicide law. He said he still supports the measure even though it would not apply to his non-fatal condition.

"This is something we should do. We should have done it a long time ago," Gardner said last week, according to the Seattle Times. "It's the right thing to do - it's the Christian thing to do."

But opposition against the measure has been mounting, beginning with Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is a friend to Gardner.

"I love my friend Booth Gardner, and my heart goes out to his condition and what he's had to face," Gregoire, who choked up briefly before speaking, told reporters Tuesday.

"I pray every day that we'll find a cure. But I find it on a personal level very, very difficult to support assisted suicide."

A counter campaign to the initiative, Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, has also formed. Backed by Democratic state Sen. Margarita Prentice, a former nurse, the coalition consists of people with disabilities, doctors, nurses, hospice workers, minority persons and religious groups.

Duane French, the spokesman for the group, is concerned that the assisted suicide law would pressure sick and disabled people who see their condition as too great a hardship or economic burden for relatives.

"The judgment of people with a terminal illness is often clouded by depression," added French, who is a quadriplegic. "Assisting people at their most vulnerable point to end their lives is not compassion, it's negligence."

Joelle Brouner of the disability-rights group Not Dead Yet, a coalition member, also chimed in on the debate, reported the Associated Press.

"I think it's a mistake for the people of Washington to accept death as a progressive health care policy."

The effort led by Gardner is not the first time the issue of assisted suicide was presented before the state. In 1991, Washington voters rejected a similar initiative.

One major change in the recent measure is that the patient requesting the lethal prescription must self-administer the drugs. Other "safeguards" in the new proposal require witnesses to the patient's both oral and written requests and a two-day waiting period following the final written request before the prescription could be dispensed.

Opponents also said the measure is a slippery slope to euthanasia and would actually remove, not grant, ethical safeguards for patients, pointing to the case in the Netherlands.

"Published medical studies reveal that Dutch doctors administer lethal injections to roughly a thousand patients a year who never consent to their deaths. That's autonomy for doctors – not for patients," commented Dr. David Stevens, CEO of Christian Medical Association.

"The answer to patients suffering at the end of life is not to kill them, but to provide aggressive and appropriate relief from pain, compassionate counsel and unconditional love," he added.

The American Medical Association also opposes assisted suicide, according to AP.

Last year, pro-life advocates were successful in stopping assisted suicide in California, Hawaii, and Vermont.

"The leading champion of assisted suicide, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, taught us that keeping assisted suicide illegal is the only true 'safeguard' against abuse," said French.

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