Thursday, August 21, 2008

Washington State I-1000 Assisted Suicide Initiative

By Alex Schadenberg
Edited by Wesley Smith

Recently I came across a fundraising letter by Faye Girsh, the former leader of the Hemlock Society (renamed, Compassion & Choices) in the United States and now the vice-president of the Hemlock society of San Diego California.

Link to the letter:

Girsh told Hemlock's supporters that the I-1000 assisted suicide initiative in Washington State “is the most important focus of the right-to-die movement in more than a decade.”

For once, I agree with Girsh. This is the most important initiative fronted by the euthanasia lobby in the past ten years and I am concerned that the coalition of groups and individuals who oppose physician-assisted suicide (PAS) have yet to wake up and realize the high stakes.

Since the legalization of PAS in Oregon, fourteen years ago, the euthanasia lobby has attempted to legalize PAS in several states through initiative campaigns, similar to the one in Washington State, in the courts, and through legislation in California, Vermont, and Hawaii, among others.

All of the attempts and strategies by the euthanasia lobby have failed. So why am I so concerned about Washington State?

The euthanasia lobby has made the I-1000 PAS initiative in Washington State a national focus. Right-to-die groups are united in their support for the I-1000 PAS initiative and they are pouring millions into the campaign in Washington State from all over the United States.

Washington State was chosen by the euthanasia lobby to be the location for a nationally focused initiative to legalize PAS based on polling data and the similar demographic make-up in Washington and Oregon its neighbor to the south.

The supporters of the euthanasia lobby have leaped to support their cause. Can we say the same for the opponents of PAS?

Currently, the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide in Washington State is badly losing the fund-raising war. The effect is to enter a prize fighting ring with one arm tied behind their backs.

What's going on?

The euthanasia lobby tend to focus intently on the one issue. In contrast, groups and individuals who make up the coalition against assisted suicide have broad concerns across a wide swath of issues, perhaps resulting in people who would otherwise generously support the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide spending their advocacy dollars in other places.

Moreover, while the euthanasia lobby world is positively buzzing about Washington State, many people who oppose PAS generally are either unaware of the campaign, or since an earlier legalization attempt (1991) was turned down in Washington State, they may be too sanguine about the potential for a Yes vote this time around.

Many among the public have been lulled into a mild acceptance of PAS because they also fear dying with uncontrolled pain. It is a natural human concern to fear pain, but the answer is not to shrug in acceptance of PAS but rather to demand proper care for people who are nearing death or experiencing chronic conditions. Medicine can provide excellent pain and symptom management. We must kill the pain, not the patient.

Some people have bought into the myth that everything is working well in Oregon. Little reported by the mainstream media, the contrary is true.

A recent study written by Dr. Herbert Hendin & Dr. Kathleen Foley, published in the Michigan Law Review: Volume 106: 1613-1640 - May 2008 entitled: Physician-Assisted Suicide in Oregon: A Medical Perspective, analyses the Oregon assisted suicide law over the past 10 years.

Link to the study:

Hendin & Foley analyzed the practice of the Oregon law and refer to actual cases to determine the validity of the claim that “all is well in Oregon.” What did they find?

- A study at the Oregon Health & Science University indicated that there has been a greater percentage of cases of inadequately treated pain in terminally ill patients since the Oregon law went into effect. However, among patients who requested PAS but availed themselves of a substantive intervention by a physician, 46% changed their minds about having PAS.

- Even though the Oregon law states that those who appear to be experiencing depression or psychological problems and request PAS are to be referred for a psychological or psychiatric evaluation, only 13% were referred for an evaluation between 1998 - 2005 and in 2007 not one of the 49 people who died by PAS were referred for a psychological or psychiatric evaluation.

- In the Oregon law, PAS cases are reported by the prescribing physician. The Oregon Public Health Division (OPHD) have admitted that they have no way of knowing how many PAS cases are not reported.

- There is a concern in Oregon about the role of the PAS advocacy group Compassion & Choices (including the groups that previously comprised what is now Compassion & Choices). The advocacy groups have been directly involved in 73% of all PAS deaths in Oregon. How can the OPHD assure people that the law is being followed when the lobby groups are the referral agency for the majority of PAS deaths in Oregon.

Since the release of the Hendin & Foley study a new phenomenon has been uncovered in Oregon. Patients who are not insured and dependent on Oregon Health Services for payment of medical treatment are finding that they are being denied funding for medical treatment and being offered PAS.

Link to the article:

Barbara Wagner (64) was recently denied payment for the cancer drug Tarceva that was prescribed by her physician as an effective treatment for lung cancer. Oregon Health Services sent a letter to Wagner informing her that they would not cover the cost of her treatment but they would provide payment for palliative care and PAS.

Wagner received the “gift of life” from the drug company Genentech, who agreed to provide Tarceva for Wagner for one year at no cost.

Randy Stroup (53) of Dexter Oregon applied to the Oregon Health Services for payment for chemotherapy. He also received a letter explaining that they would not pay for chemotherapy but they would pay for palliative care or PAS.

It appears that the Oregon Health Services now considers PAS to be equal to any other form of medical treatment, except for the fact that it only costs around $50.00 to prescribe.

It is obvious that PAS directly threatens the lives of the most vulnerable people in society. The leaders of the disability movement recognize that giving a physician the right to directly and intentionally cause the death of another person can be abused.

Link to article:

Further to that, the uninsured and the working poor may find themselves experiencing pressure to accept PAS rather than seek expensive effective medical treatment for treatable conditions.

In her fund-raising letter Faye Girsh exclaimed:
“We are concerned about the mobilization of the Catholic Church and Right to Life organizations to raise significant money for its defeat since they also realize that success will have a domino effect. We feel that a victory in Washington is the best hope for California to have such a law. Our board has been consistently unanimous in its support of this effort.”

The euthanasia lobby is united in their effort to use Washington State as a springboard for their goal of legalizing PAS. They have raised an incredible amount of money throughout the country and have sent it to the Washington campaign. Faye Girsh is the prime example, she is raising money in California to legalize assisted suicide in Washington State.

You can help make Faye Girsh’s biggest fear come true.

Please support the Washington Coalition Against Assisted Suicide and ensure that PAS is not legalized in Washington State. Your support will make a difference in Washington State and throughout the USA.

Coalition Against Assisted Suicide
P.O. Box 11794
Olympia WA 98508

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