Oregon Votes Today to Keep or Repeal Assisted Suicide: Decision Will Be a Milestone on the Issue

By Means, Sarah | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 4, 1997 | Go to article overview

Oregon Votes Today to Keep or Repeal Assisted Suicide: Decision Will Be a Milestone on the Issue


Means, Sarah, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The national debate over assisted suicide reaches a critical milestone today as Oregon voters decide the fate of an initiative to outlaw euthanasia.

Measure 51 would repeal Measure 16, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, passed by voters in 1994.

Supporting it are some unlikely allies ranging from the Mormon and Catholic churches to medical associations.

The "Yes on 51" campaign, which has received about half of its $2.25 million in funding from Mormon and Catholic churches, argues that today's assisted suicide could become tomorrow's legalized murder. Interested parties from all over the country have edged their way into the debate in a state known for its pro-choice politics and environmental activism.

"Once we accept the killing of terminally ill patients, as did the Dutch, we will invariably accept the killing of chronically ill patients, depressed patients, and ultimately, even children," Wesley Smith, a lawyer from Oakland, Calif., writes in his new book "Forced Exit."

But euthanasia advocate Derek Humphrey, author of "Final Exit," believes conservatives have forgotten the power of democracy. In his opinion, legalization would not be a return to Nazi Germany.

"Could it happen again?" he asks in an essay on his euthanasia World Wide Web site (http://www.efn.org/~ergo/). "The right-to-life movement and its principal backer, the Roman Catholic Church, say it could. They distrust the constitutional, legal and voting protections that countries like the United States, Canada and Britain have enacted . . . to prevent such horrors."

Dr. Martha Twaddle, director of Hospice of the North Shore in Evanston, Ill., joined Mr. Smith in explaining the "slippery slope" argument to reporters at the National Press Club Oct. 23.

"If we sink to the lowest common denominator, physician-assisted suicide, there will be no pressure on the system for change," Dr. Twaddle said.

She recommends hospice and palliative care, "whole person care" options, as an alternative to euthanasia and hospitals where patients are treated more like numbers than human beings.

"We do not in this system practice full-person care," Dr. Twaddle said.

Hospice care, a program in which personal care is administered through family members and doctors, is an exception to the medical norm.

But if Measure 51 fails, Dr. Twaddle fears the fight for government-funded hospice care could be seriously undermined.

First of all, Measure 16, which has been blocked by appeals to different courts, would go into effect. After it was passed in 1994, the measure found its way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Calif., where on Feb. 27 of this year, the court ruled the anti-euthanasia petitioners didn't have the right to bring the suit.

On Oct. 14, the Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal of the assisted-suicide law, leaving the euthanasia decision in the hands of the state. Today, Oregon must decide - again - whether it really wants to legalize euthanasia.

Although Michigan's Dr. Jack Kevorkian has assisted in dozens of suicides, no state beside Oregon has approved legislation to make physician-assisted suicide legal. Today's election is crucial in setting the tone for trends in American health care.

"Looking at medically assisted suicide is a very vulnerable step for the rest of society," said Gene Rudd, the associate director of the Christian Medical & Dental Society. …

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