Assisted Suicide Opponents Lost Washington State Battle, But Must Press On

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 30, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Assisted Suicide Opponents Lost Washington State Battle, But Must Press On

by Carrie Herring
November 30, 2008 Note: Carrie Herring is the head of the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, a group that helped lead the fight in Washington state against I-1000. Voters approved I-1000 to make Washington the second state, after Oregon, to allow the practice.

The Coalition Against Assisted Suicide is continuing the battle to protect the vulnerable. Together we will work to minimize the lethal effects of I-1000. The following note includes our heartfelt thanks, a review of what happened in the final weeks of the election, and some next steps.

Thank you!
During this week of Thanksgiving, we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the thousands of volunteers who put in months of work distributing literature, making phone calls, helping to raise money, waving signs, and doing so much more to try to stop I-1000.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Though we didn’t win this battle, please know that each and every person you contacted, everyone who was educated by you in opposition to assisted suicide is one less person at risk, one more person to join us in the ongoing battle to reduce the market of fear that is the driving force behind the passage of I-1000.

To all of those who worked so hard, we can only share our most profound thanks and tell you how humbling it has been to work alongside such great and dedicated people and to fight for such a basic and humane cause.

What happened?
Many people have written to the campaign in the weeks since our defeat to ask, "what happened?" Differing opinions have been aired by individuals and organizations as to why I-1000 passed, but one answer deserves particular attention – and that answer is money. The message itself is very important, and we’ll be taking a close look at whether we can improve the message.

However, the truth in political campaigns is that the results are often determined by the amount of money each side has to get the message out. We were outspent by out-of-state donors to the YES campaign. They raised and spent $5.4 Million; we raised and spent $1.5 Million.

When you add it all up, nearly $3 million poured into Washington from OUTSIDE special interest groups and wealthy individuals:

· Judy Sebba, a lady from England, gave $253,000
· Loren Parks from Nevada has kicked in $250,000
· Andrew Ross from Columbus, Ohio ponied up $400,000
· Dying with Dignity Victoria, from Australia gave over $4,000

We didn’t have the money both times we needed it most in the campaign.

First, the Coalition did not have a reasonable amount of start-up funds needed to hire staff and build the organization in the early months of Winter and Spring 2008. We did not have $20,000 cash on hand until mid-August.
On September 1st the Yes and No campaigns had similar amounts of money cash on hand. We had $306,000. They had $380,00. (They had raised $1.9 million dollars but spent almost all of their money on signature gathering.)

Unfortunately, after September 1, the YES side brought in $2.6 million to pay for their media, while we were only able to bring in an additional $650,000 in large donations. And though thousands of individual donors gave essential funding and much appreciated donations to our side, we were overwhelmed by wealthy out of state millionaires exploiting Washington State’s initiative laws to advance their agenda.

The result: proponents of I-1000 spent more than $2.5 Million on media while we had only $1.2 Million.

Polling during the final weeks of the campaign showed that our advertising with Martin Sheen and Rheba DeTornyay was extremely effective and raised awareness of the problems with I-1000. In fact, even a short time before the election, our polling showed that voters were evenly divided on the initiative. Barbara Wagner’s poignant final message was powerful, but because we lacked sufficient funding, undecided voters viewed proponents’ advertisements many more times than they viewed ours.

In the final few weeks of the campaign, as the YES campaign poured extra millions into television advertising, we sank behind and never caught up.

What’s Next?
November 4th was only the beginning of the campaign against assisted suicide, not the end. We are determined to stay together as a group to continue the battle against assisted suicide, (1) with the Legislature (2) with the state administration for drawing up rules and regulations (3) with legal action (4) within the medical community (5) through community action.

The Legislature will be hearing from us in this upcoming session. During the campaign we identified many problem areas in the initiative and now we’ll be going to the Legislature and to the state administration to talk to them about those problems and to work together to craft life-affirming solutions. Even the Seattle Times, when it endorsed I-1000, recommended that the Legislature make changes to the law.

As we write, a legal team is reviewing possible federal and state claims against I-1000 (the courts do not permit this type of legal challenge while a measure is on the ballot, but it is allowable once a measure is adopted). The Coalition is identifying funding sources for future litigation.

We will be working with the medical community to educate and to support physicians, nurses, and other health care providers and to improve care options for people with serious and terminal illnesses and disabilities.
Finally, we are in the midst of forming a community action plan where we can join together with each of you to make a positive difference in the lives of vulnerable people across Washington.

What you can do
Our final goal is to keep our grassroots team together during the rest of 2008 and into 2009 to continue the fight against assisted suicide. To do all of the work we’ve outlined above and so much more, we’ll need your help.

The election campaign now becomes an education campaign aimed at thousands of doctors, dozens of hospital boards and hundreds of state regulators. We need to work together to make our voice heard.

In the weeks ahead, beginning next week, we’ll keep you updated on ways you can get the word out and put pressure on the persons who will be implementing I-1000. Also, please check out the web site. We’ll be updating the web site frequently to reflect ongoing work and progress as well as action items and alerts.

Even in the midst of the disappointment and sorrow occasioned by the passage of I-1000, let us join together in giving thanks for family, for friends, and for the many blessings we’ve received in the last year. We at the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide give particular thanks for each of you. Your generosity and commitment were, and are, unparalleled. It has been, and will continue to be, a privilege to work together with you on behalf of the vulnerable.

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