October 31, 2008

Assisted Suicide on Washington Ballot

Voters in Washington state will be asked to consider the Washington Death with Dignity Act, an initiative that would allow doctor-assisted suicide.

The Washington question, modeled after the 11-year-old Oregon law, would allow competent, terminally ill adults to get a doctor's prescription for a lethal dose of medication, The New York Times reported Friday.

Polls indicate more voters support the Washington initiative than opposite, but the measure is controversial and closely contested, the Times said.

"It's a murky issue for politicians on either side, to be for it or against it," said Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Death With Dignity National Center, based in Portland, Ore., which is promoting the Washington measure along with Compassion and Choices.

Supporters say the climate is different this year, which may favor passage, noting the initiative is the first since the 2006 Supreme Court rejection of a Justice Department effort to stop physicians from writing the lethal prescriptions.

Such measures encourage people to give up hope, said Chris Carlson, chairman of the opposition group Coalition Against Assisted Suicide and who was diagnosed with terminal carcinoid cancer in 2005.

"You're encouraging people to prematurely give up hope, and I think that's wrong," Carlson said. "I don't think the state should be encouraging people to give up hope."