Assisted Suicide Waning; Efforts Stall in Legislatures beyond Oregon
Byline: Joyce Howard Price, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
When Oregon voters approved physician-assisted suicide in their state in 1994, activists on both sides of the issue said they expected that similar legislation would sweep the country. But that hasn't happened.
"People aren't marching in the streets, demanding the right to be killed by doctors," said Wesley J. Smith, lawyer for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, a group that opposes those actions.
That's the case, the Oakland, Calif., lawyer said, even though "there is a very energetic committed movement out there, seeking to change the law" to legalize assisted suicide.
States in which "right-to-die" leaders have tried and failed to allow people to end their lives either through ballot initiatives or legislative action include Washington (1991), California (1992), Michigan (1998), Maine (2000), New Hampshire (2000) and Hawaii (2002)
Some of the votes were close, but not all. A referendum in Michigan five years ago failed with 71 percent opposed and 29 percent in favor. Early in that campaign, polls showed strong support for the initiative. The defeat was seen as a backlash against Jack Kevorkian, a former pathologist who said he helped 130 persons kill themselves and had been treated gently by Michigan courts in four trials.
Some thought Kevorkian went too far when he let "60 Minutes" broadcast the September 1998 death of Tom Youk, a 52-year-old Michigan man with Lou Gehrig's disease.
Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder and delivering a controlled substance to Mr. Youk. He was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison.
Rita Marker, head of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, said late last year the former Hemlock Society, a pro-assisted-suicide organization now called End-of-Life Choices, would be "making a concerted effort" to win passage of assisted-suicide legislation in Vermont during the current legislative session. But a staffer for the state Senate recently said the measure "isn't going anywhere this year."
"There's also talk of a potential referendum in Arizona," Mr. Smith said. "The people who want direct euthanasia or assisted suicide really want it."
Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion in Dying, based in Portland, Ore., said, "Of course, I'm disappointed that Oregon is the only state with assisted suicide. But I remain hopeful there could be others, because it's been such a success in Oregon."
Ms. Lee sees the chance for an eventual win in Vermont.
"It's a relatively nonsectarian state," she said, adding that she doesn't consider Vermont's liberalism a major factor. "There are libertarians who like physician-assisted suicide ... our issue cuts across the political spectrum."
Asked why assisted suicide has failed in most states where it's been proposed, Ms. Lee blames "entrenched political interests and ideologies," which she says are often at odds with the "public will."
But Mr. Smith said one reason the measures haven't prevailed much so far is because people with disabilities have become leading opponents, because they "saw themselves as targets."
"There's been a tremendous diversity of conservatives and liberals coming together to oppose these measures," he said. …