Nebraska Group Upset Secretary of State Dumped Initiative on Disabled

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 19, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Nebraska Group Upset Secretary of State Dumped Initiative on Disabled Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 19
, 2006

Lincoln, NE ( — A Nebraska group that lost out on its effort to get state voters to approve an initiative to protect the elderly and disabled is upset that Secretary of State John Gale did not approve the measure for the ballot. The organization says Gale relied on outdated information in saying that it did not gather enough signatures to get on the November ballot.

Gale said that Nebraskans for Humane Care failed to turn in the necessary number of signatures to qualify.

But, the group said Gale used a higher standard for the number of signatures needed than necessary because his office used incorrect information.

"We call upon Secretary Gale to act now, while time yet remains, to fix errors by his people that threaten to disenfranchise the citizens of Nebraska for 2006," NHC spokeswoman Heidi Verougstraete said at a Capitol news conference, according to an AP report.

"To err is human and forgivable; to leave these official matters uncorrected would be a blatant assault on Nebraska’s constitutional right of citizen initiative by those who are duty-bound to uphold it."

The measure, a response to the euthanasia death of Terri Schiavo, makes sure patients who are unable to eat and drink on their own are not denied food and water, which pro-life groups consider basic necessities and not medical treatment.

The "Humane Care Initiative" would have changed state law to presume that patients would have wanted food and water in cases when there is no advanced directive indicating one way or the other. It would ensure patients aren’t starved to death unless they previously said they don’t want the provisions.

The group submitted 109,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot but Gale’s office said 114,000 were necessary. However, NHC says numerous signatures were wrongly rejected and it has filed a lawsuit to try to get the measure on the ballot.

Gale told AP he felt the move is "highly inappropriate" and said he doesn’t have to prove his office is correct unless he’s taken to court.

"It’s not our job to prove their case or even to review their allegations unless it’s in a formal setting," Gale said.

Nebraska law on how to get a state measure qualified is constantly changing and somewhat ambiguous.

Organizations wanting to change the state constitution need 114,000 signatures or 10 percent of the state’s registered voters. Those wanting to change state law need 80,000 signatures, which is 7 percent of the state’s registered voters. Groups must also get 5 percent of the signatures in 38 of the state’s 93 counties.

The NHC measure was an attempt to alter the state’s constitution.

The National Right to Life Committee had backed the ballot proposal.

The pro-life group says food wand water "should be provided to all to the full extent necessary to preserve life and assure the optimal health possible."

The organization says that, for years, patients who have had no desire to end their lives have been denied food and water "have been quietly starved without much public attention, based on state laws and court opinions that permit third parties to make deadly decisions with little or no scrutiny or accountability."

The case of Terri Schiavo, where her former husband won the right to subject her to a painful 13-day starvation and dehydration death, sparked a national debate about care for the disabled.

NRLC says the Nebraska initiative is needed to reverse the trend that favors death via starvation and dehydration over a presumption of life for the disabled.

Not surprisingly, Compassion & Choices, formerly the Hemlock Society, opposes the Nebraska state initiative.

The group claims it would allow courts and other third parties to intrude on a family’s medical decisions.

Related web sites:
National Right to Life –
Nebraska Right to Life –
Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation –