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Originally published October 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 8, 2008 at 4:19 PM

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Death with dignity: approve I-1000

Initiative 1000 should be approved. Terminally ill people should have the right to death with dignity.

The "death with dignity" measure, Initiative 1000, sets up a way for a terminally ill person to order a lethal dose of drugs. Make no mistake: This is assisted suicide. It is a grim decision, and many may think it a wrong one, but we believe it should be the right of the terminally ill to decide for themselves.

The law would give the right to only a few people: patients who have fewer than six months to live. In Oregon, the only state to have a comparable law, 49 patients used the law to take their lives last year — fewer than 2 in every 1,000 deaths in the state. They were patients with cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease and other terrible conditions. Some took their lives because of pain, but most often because they were losing their autonomy, their dignity and their engagement with life.

I-1000 aims to protect the patient by making him or her ask for the lethal dose several times, once with witnesses and in writing. It requires two doctors to certify that the patient has an untreatable disease likely to be fatal within six months.

The law would focus its attention on the ordering of the prescription, as medical drug law does generally. It would require no witnesses at the time the pills were swallowed.

Supporters say this is a personal moment and none of the government's business. Opponents raise the specter of murder or, more likely, of the patient feeling a familial duty to make an exit.

If the decision needs to be wrapped in more precautions, the Legislature can add them.

But for the voters to reject I-1000 is to deny the patient the right to make the decision at all. On the grounds of compassion for the suffering, and recognition of the individual as a moral agent, death with dignity is a right that should be allowed.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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