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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

October 10, 2008 at 1:18 PM

Initiative 1000

Let the dying keep their dignity

Watching my proud father die a humiliating, degrading and painful death from cancer reinforced my belief that terminal patients (those who have six months or less to live) should have the legal option to make a personal choice to die in a more dignified, humane way.

Some families have called this end-of-life prolonged suffering a “beautiful time.” I doubt most terminally ill patients would use those words. There was nothing beautiful or compassionate about my father’s death.

Initiative-1000 gives mentally competent adult Washington state residents the legal choice to make a voluntary, informed and personal decision with their physician and their families, to obtain and self-administer life-ending medication. Numerous safeguards are in place to protect the patient from influence or coercion. Oregon has had this law in place for 10 years and it has not been abused.

In a country founded on personal liberties and individual freedoms, isn’t how one dies one of the most personal choices a human being can make?

You may choose not to exercise this choice for yourself, but do not deny others the right to make a different choice.

— Jan Whitsitt, Medina

Get the facts, Sheen

As much as I loved Martin Sheen on “The West Wing,” he is using his television persona to act as if he has actually read Initiative-1000.

Contrary to his statements in the TV ad, there are many layers of safeguards to assure the person making the request is not being coerced or is not mentally depressed.

There is plenty of time to allow the person to rescind his decision, and he can do so at any time.

It is insulting to assume any person making the request automatically needs psychiatric help.

— Brian Hogan, Kent

Vote for choice

It seems Mary Lund [“Say goodbye to civil liberties,” Northwest Voices, Oct. 8] has been lied to and has been frightened into opposing I-1000. Some unscrupulous person surely put into her head that the initiative applies to people with disabilities, which is totally not true.

I-1000 applies only to persons who have a terminal diagnosis.

The insurance companies are not involved; the decision is between the terminally ill person and their physician.

The great Steven Hawking could not avail himself of I-1000 despite his profound physical disability. Former Gov. Booth Gardener has a devastating illness, but the law would not apply to him either.

I-1000 is about civil liberties. It is about the right to choose.

Out of our own misguided sense of morality, possessiveness or fear of death, we deny terminally ill people a fundamental right — the right to determine the future course of what’s left of their lives.

I-1000 extends basic rights of choice we should all have.

Fear-mongering is a common tactic of those who want to impose their views and values on others. Don’t buy it.

Vote “yes” on I-1000. Vote for choice.

— Stephen Lamphear, Burien

Be informed

I read the letter from Mary Lund of Bothell with horror.

She claims that insurance companies could somehow drop coverage of her disabled child and instead offer to pay for fatal doses of medication.

Good grief. There is no such provision in I-1000.

To be eligible for a death-with-dignity prescription, two doctors must agree that the patient has less than six months to live and that the patient is able to make an informed decision about his or her decision.

No one can force a patient to make a final end-of-life decision.

If Lund fears the insurance companies, take them on, but don’t force terminally ill people to endure pain and suffering unnecessarily.

Lund is spewing the kind of lies and scare tactics opponents are using to fight against I-1000.

I agree with her on one thing: Please be informed on the issue before you vote.

— Chris Fruitrich, Seattle

Bad medicine

The legislation of I-1000 is terribly flawed.

It will lead the practice of medicine in directions it has not seen before in this state. The law attempts to remove the stigma of “physician-assisted suicide” by replacing it with “self-administration of a lethal drug.” The law would, however, allow for the administration of the dose in the case of the disability of the patient.

This removes the “safeguard” of self-administration and allows for another to end the life of a patient.

Until now, this would be considered homicide.

The law requires that the patient have no more than six months to live in order to be enacted. This is incredibly difficult to predict, and physicians, including myself, are routinely wrong. Most physicians have had patients who have been discharged from hospice care due to their failure to die in six months and actually flourish under the care of the hospice staff.

An error of special concern is the requirement in the law that the physician lie on a patient’s death certificate. In a case of self-administered medication under the statute, the physician would be required to state that the cause of death was not suicide, but the disease process that the patient suffered from. This is fraud at best, a redefinition of suicide at worst. What kind of precedent does it set to require a licensed professional to lie on a legal document in order to be in compliance with a law?

Section 18 redefines suicide by barring the use of the words “suicide,” “assisted suicide,” “mercy killing” or “homicide” in cases of death by self-administered medication in accordance to the initiative. There is no reasonable justification for this change in definition. Even the editorial board of The Seattle Times, which supports this initiative, states “Make no mistake. This is assisted suicide” [“Death with dignity: Approve I-1000,” Times, editorial, Oct. 5]. In accordance with the above errors, the initiative would also bar any enactments of insurance-company clauses against suicide.

The arguments for suicide in dying are many, and some are compelling. Suffering is difficult to watch and to go through. Pain can be a brutal mistress. It is often argued that if a ventilator can be removed or antibiotics be stopped or a surgery refused, why can a prescription for death not be written?

As patients, we have the right to refuse intervention. We can deny the placement of a tube. A woman in the throes of a difficult delivery can refuse a Caesarean section and a person can refuse lifesaving transfusion because of religious beliefs. Removing a ventilator is in the same category; it is a refusal of an intervention by the patient or their representative and allows a disease process to take its natural course. It is not an overt act by another to take a person’s life outside of the disease process.

This legislation is misguided. It will be broadened over time, as most laws are. The Americans with Disabilities Act will be used to force open such initiatives to allow those without terminal illnesses to obtain physician-assisted suicide.

Physicians unwilling to participate may at some time be sanctioned for not writing the requested prescription. If this seems far-fetched, the Washington Board of Pharmacy has recently decided that pharmacists, who do not give the abortion-inducing morning after pill to patients due to personal belief, can be sanctioned by the board.

I-1000 is bad medicine and should not be passed.

— Chris Beard, Mukilteo

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