Washington voters approve assisted suicide initiative

The Seattle Times | CURT WOODWARD | Nov. 5, 2008

Voters approved Initiative 1000 on Tuesday, making Washington the second state to give terminally ill people the option of medically assisted suicide. The ballot measure, patterned after Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” law, allows a terminally ill person to be prescribed lethal medication, which would be self-administered.

With about 43 percent of the expected vote counted Tuesday in unofficial returns, I-1000 was being approved by a margin of about 58 percent to about 42 percent.

Supporters, led publicly by Democratic former Gov. Booth Gardner, said the initiative would provide a compassionate way for terminally ill people to die.

Gardner has Parkinson’s disease, an incurable disorder that causes tremors and stiff or frozen limbs. Gardner, who would not be eligible under I-1000 because Parkinson’s is not considered fatal, said he pushed the measure in his “last campaign” because he understood why other ill people would want the option.

Opponents, including the Catholic church, said assisted suicide is a dangerous step that devalues human life. Critics also said the assisted suicide measure could exploit depressed or vulnerable people who worry they’ve become a burden on their families.

The measure involved a multimillion-dollar campaign, including TV advertisements featuring actor Martin Sheen, who urged a “no” vote. But polling before Election Day showed I-1000 with significant support.

Outside of Oregon, advocates of similar laws haven’t fared well. California, Michigan and Maine voters rejected the idea, and bills have failed in statehouses around the country. In Washington, voters rejected physician-assisted suicide in 1991.

This year’s proposal differs from the earlier Washington measure – it doesn’t allow doctors to administer lethal drugs on behalf of patients who can’t do so themselves.

Any patient requesting the fatal medication must be at least 18, declared competent and a resident of Washington state.

The patient would have to make two oral requests, 15 days apart, and submit a written request witnessed by two people, including one person who is not a relative, heir, attending doctor, or connected with a health facility where the requester lives.

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