Washington Lawsuit Stalls Bid to Gather Signatures to Legalize Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 11, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Washington Lawsuit Stalls Bid to Gather Signatures to Legalize Assisted Suicide Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
February 11,

Olympia, WA (LifeNews.com) — A lawsuit euthanasia opponents have filed will prevent backers of a statewide initiative making the state the second to legalize assisted suicide from gathering signatures to put it on the November ballot. Opponents say the wording of the ballot proposal is misleading and doesn’t give voters complete information.

Under the measure, Washington residents who have less than six months to live would be able to ask a doctor for a prescription for lethal drugs to kill themselves.

The Coalition Against Assisted Suicide said in its suit that the wording in the summary of Initiative 1000 fails to inform voters of all of the changes to state law.

The Olympian newspaper says the group worries voters won’t understand the "specific impact" the assisted suicide proposal will have on the state.

"The measure not only endorses assisted suicide, but creates an entire protocol for facilitating suicide," the group says.

According to the newspaper, the group objects to parts of the proposal that makes it so those using the law to kill themselves do not have to undergo a mental health evaluation beforehand and another provision requiring no notice of the suicide attempt to family members.

"A patient could kill himself before the family members are even notified of the suicide request," Kristen Waggoner, an attorney for the group, told the Olympian.

Christian Sinderman, a spokesman for the group backing the initiative told the newspaper the lawsuit is just a stalling tactic to make it more difficult for supporters to meet at July 4 deadline for having signatures submitted to the state.

The organization, headed by former Gov. Booth Gardner, must submit 224,880 signatures to qualify the measure. Gardner, a Democrat, was Washington’s governor from 1985 to 1993.

A hearing on the lawsuit is set for February 22 in Thurston County Superior Court in Olympia in front of Judge Gary Tabor.

Pro-life groups are rallying alongside disability advocates and the medical community in opposing the ballot proposal.

Sister Sharon Park, director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, said her group will strongly oppose the measure.

"Certainly, we hold that life is a gift from God and it’s sacred and we’re to hold it as a gift," she told the Times. "That certainly would be why we would not be supportive of assisted suicide."

Duane French, who heads the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, said the disabled would play a prominent role in opposing the measure. He says he’s concerned that the initiative makes no mention of the term, "suicide."

That’s because backers of the proposal can’t word it in a way that violates current law prohibiting state residents from encouraging someone to commit suicide.

Ironically, just months ago Gardner underwent deep brain surgery for Parkinson’s Disease, which could possibly be used to help incapacitated patients like Terri Schiavo.

Bioethics watchdog Wesley J. Smith says the former governor is ignoring the dangers and problems associated with allowing doctors to have a role in killing their patients.

"The potential for–and abuses that are actually happening–from legalized assisted suicide are well documented," Smith says.

"But advocates like Gardner willfully ignore that part of the story. Bluntly stated, they want what they want for themselves and don’t care who gets hurt," he adds.

Last year, pro-life advocates were successful in stopping assisted suicide in California, Hawaii, and Vermont. They worried Washington would join Oregon, where assisted suicides are at an all time high.

This isn’t the first time euthanasia backers have tried to get the state to authorize assisted suicide. In 1991, 54 percent of state voters rejected Initiative 119, which, unlike this new measure, allowed doctors to administer the drugs.