I-1000: Let us die with dignity

In November, Washington voters will have the opportunity to vote for or against Booth Gardner’s I-1000 Initiative. Also referred to as the Death with Dignity initiative or the Assisted Suicide initiative, I-1000 has been written to closely parallel Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act enacted in October of 1997.

In early June, I stood for several hours intercepting busy grocery shoppers in an effort to gather signatures to put I-1000 on the November ballot. Many voters eagerly signed. Some told brief stories of their experience with the death of a loved one. Some were elderly and seeking to support an initiative that would give them more choice and control over how to end their lives should they become terminally ill. Two spoke of a present terminal illness and their impending deaths.

And then there were those who were eager to tell me (some angrily) why they would not, not then, not ever, support such an initiative. It became clear to me we would garner few votes from those with faith-based objections. That makes sense to me in light of the fact that I, myself, would not support an initiative that flew in the face of my values and beliefs.

As a passionate supporter of I-1000, however, I am compelled to write to those who are sitting on the fence with this issue. There is reliable information available on the web to help one learn more about the initiative.

One can download the 20 pages of I-1000 on the Secretary of State‚‘s website at www.secstate.wa.gov. At www.oregon.gov you can access a great deal of information about Oregon‚s Death with Dignity Act. The Oregon Department of Human Services is required to annually collect information about the patients and doctors who participate in the act and to then publish an annual statistical report. All reports are available on this website. The FAQ section is also very informative.

According to the website, since the Oregon act was enacted in 1997, 341 patients have died under the terms of the law. Most (80 percent) were between the ages of 55 and 84, and 86 percent had terminal cancer.

The most current Oregon report states that in 2007, 85 prescriptions were written under the provisions of the Oregon DWDA. Of the 85, 46 patients self-administered the medication, 26 died from their underlying disease, and 13 were alive at the end of 2007. The death total is reported at 49, not 46, however, because three patients took prescriptions written earlier than 2007.

It is important to know that the application steps terminally ill patients must complete in order to finally be given a prescription of a lethal dose of medication are numerous and require the patient be competent to make decisions and to be able to take the medication. There is no Kevorkian-style physician involvement that some people imagine. It is not a process that involves euthanasia, either passive or active. Instead, it is the patient who voluntarily self-administers a lethal dose of medication at a time of his choosing.

If you research it, I believe you will find the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon has been implemented for over ten years with no scandal and few problems.

It is not unusual for a patient to obtain the prescription and never use it. Resources I have read indicate that, for many, just having the medication in their possession helps them to die without using it. In having the option, they have autonomy.

I support I-1000 because I am a firm believer in the right to choose. One angry gentleman said to me as a statement of refusal to sign the petition, “I don’t need a law. I have a gun!”

Yes, and there is always Deception Pass Bridge. However, those of us who support Death with Dignity are seeking a legal option that offers more than a gun or a bridge. We seek an option that provides autonomy and choice.

One woman, after signing the petition and putting the pen down in a firm, decisive manner, turned and said, “I hope this passes. I have cancer, and I plan to go live with my daughter and her two cats in Oregon. Now maybe I won’t have to. I hate cats!”

True. Maybe she won’t have to. Maybe Washington voters will do for her what Oregon voters did for their citizens.

Society asks us to take responsibility for our lives. Many terminally ill patients are just as committed about taking the responsibility, whatever their reasons might be, to end their lives before their disease does. The summary of Oregon’s 2007 report states that 100 percent of patients who applied indicated that “loss of autonomy” was a major concern as they faced their death.

For me, loss of autonomy would be my number one fear. If I were to become terminally ill, I would want to have the option to take control of my death in as dignified and peaceful a manner as possible. No gun. No bridge. No bottle of pills plucked from the medicine cabinet; just a guided and controlled application process and a prescription.

It’s not an unreasonable thing to ask of our state government. I hope voters will support those of us who wish to have the right to make a personal choice.

Barbara Sheffield

lives in Oak Harbor.

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