By Soojin Kim
Northwest Asian Weekly
On Nov. 4, you have the opportunity to vote yes on I-1000, in order to give dying patients the right to decide for themselves how and when they may end their suffering.
Instead of forcing people in the end-stages of cancer or another terminal illness to linger, kept alive by machines and tubes, I-1000 would allow those patients to gather with their family, say their goodbyes and have a peaceful, dignified death.
The initiative applies only to mentally competent, terminally ill patients who have less than six months to live, and there are many safeguards to ensure that the patient’s decision is voluntary and informed.
To be eligible, two doctors must agree that the patient is terminally ill with less than six months to live. The patient must make three requests for death with dignity. The written request must be witnessed by two people, at least one of whom is not related to the patient. Fifteen days must pass between oral and written requests, and 48 hours must pass after the written request. If anyone suspects that the patient has mental illness, then the patient must be referred for a mental evaluation.
The patient must be informed of all options, including pain management and hospice. The patient’s choice must be entirely voluntary. Any indication of coercion ends the process and is punishable as a felony crime. Only the patient may self-administer the medication, and the patient may change their mind at any time.
Oregon has had an identical law for over 10 years, and we can look at 10 years of experience in Oregon to see that the death with dignity law is safe, compassionate and responsible. No one is ever forced to do anything under the law; instead, the law just gives a small number of terminally ill patients a choice about how much suffering they have to endure.
Opponents to I-1000 use “scare tactic” arguments and rely on fear and misinformation. But we can see from 10 years of experience in Oregon that none of the opponents’ hypothetical worst-case scenarios have ever actually happened. What has happened in Oregon is that pain and palliative care has improved for all patients, and the small number of end-stage cancer patients who do use the death with dignity law have been grateful for the peace of mind and sense of control that it offers.
Changing the law to allow death with dignity will not change the way most of us live our final days – but it will give a small number of terminally ill cancer patients, and their families, the peace of mind of knowing that they won’t be forced to suffer.
Life is a series of decisions, choices that we make every day, and they may be simple and easy or difficult and momentous. The decision that a cancer patient might make to end their suffering under Washington’s death with dignity initiative, I-1000, may be difficult. The decision to vote yes on I-1000 so that the cancer patient can have that choice is easy. ♦
Seattle attorney Soojin Kim is a volunteer for Yes on 1000. For more information visit www.yeson1000.org.