Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Claims made by supporters of Death with Dignity Act are Misleading

By MARGARET DORE
Special to the Walla Walla Union Bulletin
Sept. 14, 2008

I am an attorney whose practice includes probate and guardianship disputes. As part of my job, I have seen firsthand how families act at the death of a loved one.

Sometimes, especially when the loved one has assets, there can be bad behavior.

Up until a few months ago, I had no strong opinion on the proposed Death with Dignity Act, which is on the ballot as Initiative 1000. That was, until I read its actual language. I urge you to read it now: The backers’ claims are misleading; the proposed safeguards are illusory.

'Voluntary' decision making

The Initiative’s campaign literature states: "All decisions made by the patient must be entirely voluntary," and that the application to obtain the lethal dose has "objective witnesses." The proposed act, however, allows one of two required witnesses to be an heir.

When signing a will, the same situation would create a presumption of undue influence, for example, that greedy son pressured dad to sign.

The probate statute states that when one of two witnesses is a taker under the will, there is a rebuttable presumption that the taker-witness: "procured the gift by duress, menace, fraud, or undue influence."

The initiative's campaign literature also states: "No one other than the eligible patient may administer the (lethal dose)." The proposed act, does not, however, say this. It states only that the patient "may" self-administer the lethal drug. The act also defines "self-administer" as merely the act of ingesting. The act states:

"Self-administer" means a qualified patient's act of ingesting medication to end his or her life in a humane and dignified manner.

In other words, greedy son putting the lethal dose in dad’s mouth qualifies as "self-administration."

No witness at death

Under the act, there is no requirement that the death itself be witnessed. With no witness, greedy son could force feed the lethal dose to dad. Who would know? It would be the perfect crime.

No liability

The act states that persons who act wrongly, for example, by exerting undue influence, are guilty of a Class A felony. But, how would this be proved? Dad would be dead. The only witness to his death would be greedy son.

No "death with dignity"

Under present law, people with assets, that is, middle class and above, can find themselves in a pressure cooker of "put me in your will." With passage of the act, there will be a new refrain: "Die now so that there will be something left for me."

This is not a "dignified" way to end one's life knowing that your loved ones want your stuff more than they want you and/or spending the last moments of your life trying to fight them off. I mean, what did your life stand for if this is how it ends?

Summary

I am against I-1000 because it would put vulnerable persons at risk of abuse (and worse) at the hands of others.

My objection is based on the act’s actual language: The biggest problem is that there is no requirement that the death be witnessed. This creates the opportunity for an heir to administer the lethal dose without the patient’s consent. A copy of the act can be viewed on the Secretary of State's Web site.

Read I-1000 and vote no.

Margaret Dore is a Seattle attorney in private practice. Her mother’s family was from Waitsburg and Walla Walla.

For more information about the I-1000 assisted suicide initiative in Washington State go to: http://www.noassistedsuicide.com/

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