Dignity is a fundamental human right. Being on death’s doorstep shouldn’t change that.
That’s why we support an initiative filed this month by former Gov. Booth Gardner that would have our state join Oregon in providing terminally ill, mentally competent adults access to life-ending medication. Supporters need to gather about 225,000 valid signatures by July 3 for the measure to appear on the November ballot.
It’s modeled after Oregon’s voter-approved Death with Dignity Act, which has been in effect for a decade and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago. Oregon’s experience has disproven predictions that even a carefully crafted law with sensible safeguards would be abused. In 10 years, fewer than 300 people have used the law to end their lives (most had cancer or Lou Gehrig’s disease), and far more people request a lethal prescription than use it — evidence that just having such control is comforting to many.
The initiative would allow an adult resident of Washington who is judged by two physicians to have six months or less to live, and is mentally competent, to request a prescription for lethal medication. The medication would have to be self-administered, a key difference from a failed 1991 initative that would have allowed doctors to administer lethal injections.
Under the current proposal, the terminally ill patient would first make a verbal request for life-ending medication, wait at least 15 days, then follow with a written request. Another 48-hour waiting period would follow before the prescription could be written. The patient couldn’t assign anyone else to make the decision for them, and any doctor or health-care organization could opt out.
Gardner, who has Parkinson’s disease, says he is leading the initiative campaign because he knows personally how terminally ill patients feel as they lose control. Because Gardner’s illness isn’t considered terminal, he wouldn’t be eligible to use the proposed law to end his life. He simply sees it as a humane, compassionate and reasonable way to let some people retain control when life is in its final stages.
For more information on the initiative campaign, visit www.itsmydecision.org.