Selective Enforcement in the Battle to Protect Life

As Goldy mentioned below, things got pretty heated in the podcast last night over I-1000, the Death With Dignity initiative in Washington State. This initiative would bring Oregon’s assisted suicide law to this state. While Oregon remains the only state with such a law, the predictions of innocent old people being preyed on by doctors and alarmingly high levels of suicides never materialized. In fact, less than 300 people have taken advantage of the law to end their lives on their own terms in the decade it’s been on the books. More data here from Oregon shows that the law has been effective and has served the function that it was meant to serve.

On my way over to Drinking Liberally yesterday, I found an I-1000 petition to sign along Pike St downtown, and a few hours (and vodka tonics) later, I was berating Joel Connelly over his opposition to the measure, which I find to be extremely hypocritical for someone who is pro-choice when it comes to abortion. I want to elaborate on why that’s the case here.

Here’s what he wrote in today’s edition of the PI:

The view here: I oppose allowing the state to sanction a decision by people to kill themselves.

It’s part personal, a father who wanted to “go quietly” after a cancer diagnosis, but who lived and was loved for 2 1/2 more years. And we’re not Sparta. The state exists to protect its most vulnerable citizens, the very young and the very old.

While I agree that the state has a duty to protect its most vulnerable citizens, I do not automatically equate the very young with the very old. Not all individuals at the end of their lives are incapable of making informed adult decisions. Many people, when faced with the prospect of imminent death, are extremely clear in their thinking and their choices.

And beyond that, I strongly reject the idea that the state exists to protect citizens from their own moral decisions. This is the foundation that leads to my pro-choice beliefs and my overall libertarian outlook. One could easily argue that a woman with an unwanted pregnancy is “vulnerable,” and could in turn use the same logic that Joel uses here to demand that the state make the decision for her.

During the podcast, I had to point out to Joel several times that he was using arguments that were identical to arguments I’ve heard and read from anti-choice activists. There’s little distinction between the value judgement that a person makes towards their own life and the value judgement that a pregnant mother makes towards the life that is growing inside of her (even though the latter is technically not a human life yet). Both value judgements are for the individual to make, and the state should not be involved. Believing that one judgement is sacred to the individual, while the other is not, is a hypocritical stance. Either human beings have domain over their own bodies or they don’t.

There’s a lot that Joel and I agree on in the political realm and I still enjoy talking to him, but I’m profoundly disappointed that he’s allowing emotion to get in the way of reason here and working against establishing a right in this state that should be as fundamental as the right to an abortion.


  1. 1

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    Couldn’t we just push the old coots out on a dangerous street in a liberal run city and let nature take its course?? It would be much easier.

  2. 2

    Lily spews:

    The fight over Death With Dignity got quite expensive in Oregon, especially when the Bush regime kept filing federal lawsuits to stop it, no matter haw many times they lost. Where’s tort reform when you need it? ;)

    I’ll look for those petitions in sw Wash so I can sign it. The Oregon version has safeguards, and the WA version will too. Anyone who doesn’t wish to end their life after a terminal diagnosis just doesn’t ask for it.

    I know this much free will and self determination freaks out some conservatives, but they’ll get over it.

  3. 3

    Winston Smith spews:

    We must not, under any circumstances, allow the terminally ill to choose a dignified death. It is much better to require them to suffer, to require them to waste away, to require them to live their last few days in intense agony.

  4. 4

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    It would be disingenuous to pretend that abortion and suicide are anything other than difficult, complex, and confusing issues. My personal religious beliefs hold both abortion and suicide morally impermissible. Yet, my political beliefs argue against imposing my personal values and beliefs on others who may not share those values and beliefs.

    So why is the issue difficult, complex, or confusing? Would not my political beliefs dictate a “hands off” approach and say, in effect, the state must let people do whatever they want?

    Unfortunately, it’s not that easy or simple. It’s easy enough to conclude that protecting individuals from violence by others is a valid state function; that should be a no-brainer (except how do you shut your eyes to the fact we live in a world of prolific state-sponsored violence?). But that immediately embroils you in complications vis-a-vis abortion, which involves the decision of a mother to terminate the life of her unborn. This debate is often framed in terms of whether an unborn is a “human life” but for me that has always been clear: A fertilized egg is not a human being; an about-to-be-born child is; at some point the cell mass inside the mother’s body becomes definable as a separate human life, but this point is not a bright line but rather impossible to pinpoint (the Supreme Court wrestled with it in Roe v. Wade, drawing on the fields of law, philosophy, religion, and medicine but couldn’t do it and gave up trying); and once an embryo becomes a human life, it is hard to argue the state has no valid interest in protecting it without wading into the swamp of inconsistency, because then you are hard-pressed to justify the laws that criminalize murder.

    The concept of state authority to prevent an individual from killing himself is even murkier. How could any rational and ethical person argue that the state shouldn’t intervene to protect a mentally ill or emotionally despondent person from his own self-lethal impulses? What about the rational person who makes a carefully thought out decision — which makes perfect sense in the circumstances — to chuck this life? Here again, there is not a bright line or a lodestone to guide us, but only a misty band of gray intellectual and moral marshland that is difficult to wade through.

    For one thing, suicide doesn’t affect only the person taking his own life. In many cases, it affects other people around that person. For example, let me tell you about a car I bought for my child. Couldn’t afford a new one, so shopped for a late-model used one in good condition through the want ads. Inexpensive compact model of the sort popular among young people. I found a suitable vehicle being offered for sale by a Woodinville couple. After consummating a deal, the woman began crying as I handed over the check and she signed the title. Her husband — a stepfather, as it turned out, explained the car had belonged to his wife’s 21 year old daughter, who had just committed suicide, and she was selling it to pay for the funeral. Now, that young woman obviously had problems, but she also had her whole life in front of her and I’m sure whatever the source of her distress was, time could have healed it and made her whole, and she would have found the rest of her life worth living. Now imagine the effect this had on her mother, whose life will never be the same, and who unavoidably will be afflicted by demons of her own for the rest of her life (was I at fault? could I have loved her more? — she’ll think of 10,000 things she might have done differently). That young woman’s death, in the end, tore several other lives apart. Should the state have stopped her, if possible?

    The basic justification for laws that restrict our personal behavior (read: freedom) is the notion, rooted in both practicality and ideas of morality, that we don’t have a right to hurt other people. Your freedom to swing your arm stops where my nose begins; we all recognize that as a sound rule of social governance, enforceable through law and the mechanisms of the state. Should your family, your friends, your business associations, and/or other people who will be affected by your decision to do away with yourself have a right — through society’s laws — to keep you from doing it … to protect their own interests? The answer is murky.

    In the end, we as individuals often make our political decisions about such issues as a result of our religious or political affiliations, or the influence of family and/or other people around us, without having really thought the issues through. That’s what most people do, anyway. And there may well be a natural tendency to err on the side of caution, to be hesitant to vote against life.

    Frankly, I don’t know how I will vote on this initiative. I know I will be troubled by it, and will wrestle with it. I know that I will not make a decision quickly, and my decision will not come easily. I will make every effort to make a rational, fact-based decision on I-1000; but I am realistic, and I know that ultimately what I decide will come from the heart and gut as much as from the head. I do have a gut sense that a terminally ill person with no hope of recovery who is in pain should not be forced to suffer; that is cruel, and the idea of a right to refuse life-prolonging treatments is not complex for me, either. It does seem to me that, in certain circumstances, suicide is understandable and I wouldn’t be inclined to interfere and would feel the state shouldn’t interfere. But, standing on that particular rock of rationality and ethical thinking, do we then slide down a slippery slope when someone suggests that euthanasia is merely a logical extension of justifiable suicide? This whole question of life and death is a greasy pole.

  5. 5

    Richard Pope spews:

    Looks to me like Joel Connelly wrote 25 paragraphs of fairly balanced commentary, before ending with two paragraphs expressing his own viewpoint. Maybe Lee shouldn’t be berating Joel so much for adding his own two cents to a full dollars worth of objective coverage?

    From my own point of view, my father passed away on February 12, 2005 at 78 due to the effects of congestive kidney and heart failure. He could have probably lived months longer (or more), had he chosen to do so. He refused to take the erythropoetin shots prescribed to him to maintain red blood cell production. And he also refused to consider the dialysis which could have removed the toxins from his blood that his kidneys were so ineffective in dealing with. So his death was like so many other people in the same situation — the toxin level in the blood builds up so high that nothing functions very well any more, and the person simply dies when breathing and circulation cease to be effective enough to maintain life.

    My father thought the assisted suicide law in Oregon was a good idea when they adopted it — which was years before he died or even realized that death might come relatively soon. I disagreed with my father at the time, and I cannot say that I feel any differently today. I agree with Joel’s personal opinion on this one. And I think Joel is saying that it is also a good thing to fight to stay alive, as opposed to simply not affirmatively killing yourself.

  6. 6

    SeattleJew spews:


    I strongly support the right t die. Frankly, if we accept the concept of freedom of religion as part of the first, how can we reject the right we all have to end our own life?

    At the same time, I respect John’s POV. I suspect it is a realistic fear that something like this cold be misused. In fact I am SURE that si a real threat. Imagine this scenario …

    A bed in Harborview, 70 yo alkie. Mo jobb, no means of support, chow hard is it to imagine the attraction to some of our society of a little, useful nudge? The imagine a second 70 yo. This time give the fellow some Msoft stock (as well as a vodka habit). Do you thinkl the pressures would be the same?

    Part of the problme is that doc currenlty DO assist in death but t is done in a quiet way outside of the formal law. There may be advanatges of leaving this process that way.

  7. 7

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @5 “before ending with two paragraphs expressing his own viewpoint”

    That’s what editors are for.

  8. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @5 Well I remember a couple of times when my daddy should have been gone. When he was in his 70s it looked like arteriosclerosis would get him but an angioplssty fixed that, apparently for good. When he had a brain tumor removed at 88, no reasonable person would have expected him to come out of post-op, but he was stronger than he looked. Now there’s nothing stopping him from making 100 and he’s got only a couple more laps to go to reach that mark, and looks good for it. I’ve started making travel plans to attend a big birthday party. There’s gonna be over a billion rabbits there … you know how we multiply, etc.

  9. 9

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @6 Too bad the doc who treated Hitler for gas poisoning at Paesschendale didn’t stick a bayonet in his throat.

  10. 10

    Richard Pope spews:

    Roger Rabbit @ 8

    Wow — I am impressed. My father had one of his coronary arteries 90% blocked, and another 80% blocked. He had angioplasty in October 2004, which was successful. He said he had not felt better in many years, after this circulation was restored to around normal.

    Unfortunately, other health problems finished him off a little less than four months later, as previously discussed.

  11. 11

    FricknFrack spews:

    THANK YOU Lee, excellent post! I’m certainly GLAD you gave Joel a few punches. I’m hopeful that reactions to Joel’s column will get more people to look around themselves for a chance to sign. My belief is that the one who is required to DO the pain & suffering OUGHT to be the one deciding their own tolerance limits.

    Last month I emailed I-1000 to donate and ask for copies to pass around my neighbors and friends. Read all the information supplied carefully.

    Interesting responses that I’ve gotten so far. My very alert & mentally stable elderly Democratic neighbors were eager to sign onto the initiative. My middle aged Republican friends refused to sign (one of whom is a little scary IMO since she’s my own designated POA, along with my Sister who would uphold my decisions, should that time ever come). We will have to talk further about the subject to make sure that my own wishes would prevail in end of life decisions or if her beliefs may have changed. Not saying Rep friend is required to sign the initiative, but that puts up a red flag for me.

    There are a LOT of safeguards, this was modeled on the Oregon Initiative that, despite the Feds & Ashcroft’s interference and attempts to override, has withstood the court decisions.

    In a number of Oregon cases where people requested the assistance and have gone through the many hoops to put it in place – they have not ended up putting it into action at the end. Just as should happen. It may serve to only provide peace of mind, like an insurance policy, in case the pain becomes too much and the quality of life is unbearable. Just the knowledge that they have an exit door or escape route available.

    I think Joel has seriously stepped over the line in letting his emotions guide his column for a public forum format. I was hopeful & surprised to see the column SEEMED to be more balanced this time, then he had to pop his zingers in at the end. He does a disservice to his readers and this is the 2nd time he has done this on the same subject in his column. Better if he had merely signed on as the “Guest Column” instead of tossing his weight around.

  12. 12

    FricknFrack spews:

    A couple of points, re: the I-1000 information, rather surprised me. Two were copies from different Oregon Newspapers editorials. The unexpected benefits of all the hoopla surrounding the Oregon initiative actually worked on behalf of people NOT seeking assistance. It forced doctors to become more aware and provide better pain management. Instead of saying morphine might leave the patient addicted so we don’t want to give appropriate doses (hey, they’re not expected to live longer than 6 months!) more doctors started referring a number of patients into hospice care. Or providing sufficient prescriptions that actually reduced the suffering.

    Another point which surprised me was that Life Insurance Companies cooperated and willingly paid out the life insurance after death, as required. Since it’s not “suicide”. On the other hand, IMO, if that same person was forced to resort to getting a gun to find some relief, I would expect those same life insurance policies would probably have been declared null & void due to suicide.

    The patient requires signatures from two doctors. But if there’s any question there can also be a mental evaluation required to complete the process needed to request assistance. It takes some doing to put it in place, but there are certainly stringent safeguards.

    My own Mom died a couple of years ago. Thank heavens her hospice kept her morphine levels at a point where she wasn’t forced to endure a horrific exit. Probably one of the reasons I feel so adamant about the need for this Initiative to be put up to the voters to decide.

  13. 14

    Jane Balough's Dog spews:

    I am against assisted suicide but I could see why there would be a demand for it if we ever had librul health care. Imagine waiting in line for your Morphine. Yikes.

  14. 15

    ratcityreprobate spews:

    Yesterday I commented in the PI as follows:
    “Joel, you forget to mention that the folks opposed to the initiative and who are raising big dollars have gone to court to attempt to hide their identities and expenditures. If your position is so noble, why the secretiveness? Could it be because the right to life movement gives lip service to opposition to the death penalty and opposition to war, but when the chips are down only puts its money into opposing personal choice, abortion and death with dignity? It is called hypocrisy.”

  15. 16


    An absolutely disgusting example of the human race in todays’ Seattle Times. A 21 year old woman who is in prison in on her FOURTH CHILD. The article was about how the prison allows mothers and children to be together. But isn’t part of being a good parent, being a good example? What kind of example can this criminal and baby-maker be? Four babies by 21? What a moron. Take the kids away from her and tie her tubes. This is one area where China does it right.

  16. 17

    Richard Pope spews:

    Troll @ 16

    Think of how TOTALLY PATHETIC the fathers of these children are. If the father had any parenting ability and interest in the child, the child would be with the father, instead of being raised by mom in prison.

  17. 18

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    17. Richard Pope spews:
    Think of how TOTALLY PATHETIC the fathers of these children are. If the father had any parenting ability and interest in the child, the child would be with the father, instead of being raised by mom in prison.

    If only this woman used her “choice” not to have sex with a deadbeat.
    Did anyone notice lee referred to those opposed to abortion as anti-choice activists instead of pro-life activists?

  18. 19


    Actually, the problems we have in our country’s health care system related to pain management are a result of conservative interference, not from liberals. If liberals had more control of our health care system, there’d be much fewer people unable to treat their pain.

  19. 20


    Did anyone notice lee referred to those opposed to abortion as anti-choice activists instead of pro-life activists?

    It’s the more accurate term.

  20. 21

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @16 Where do the father(s) come into play? Do they have any responsibility? You didn’t mention them … why not?

  21. 22

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @18 “If only this woman used her ‘choice’ not to have sex with a deadbeat.”

    Yes, if only. But we live in an imperfect world, Stamm. People deal with that in different ways — liberals with compassion and intolerance, conservatives with temper tantrums and mean spirits. Sorry not everyone is as perfect as you intellectually and ethically challenged vermin of the right, but that’s the way it is. Deal with it.

  22. 23

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    18, 20 – I agree with Lee: “Anti-choice” is the correct terminology here. Why? First, because the self-described “pro-life” crowd aren’t pro-life; they strongly in favor of killing on their terms. Second, because they are anti-choice; they are strongly opposed to individual freedom and strongly in favor of government interference in people’s personal lives — again, on their terms. They go so far as wanting to dictate what religious beliefs must be taught to your children in public schools and what your political beliefs must be. These folks have no respect for anyone’s right to make different choices than theirs, and are perfectly willing to use force to make you go with their choice. There’s nothing pro-life about them, but they are plenty anti-choice. Lee got it right.

  23. 24

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    22. Roger Rabbit spews:

    People deal with that in different ways — liberals with compassion and intolerance,

    Not very often does someone on the left admit their intolerance for those with opposing views. Kudos for having the balls to speak the truth.

  24. 25

    Steve spews:

    In regards to the Death with Dignity initiative, I view it as a matter of freedom and responsible choice. I view having no choice in this matter as being required by the state to wait willy-nilly for the chariot to come down from the sky – a view I’m sure the Christian right would like to hold us all to. No, that is not for me. I prefer the freedom to make a responsible decision. I will vote for the initiative.

  25. 26

    Steve spews:

    @24 Geez, it must suck to be reduced to spell checking. But I do hope it gives you a “gotcha” moment to cherish.

  26. 27

    ArtFart spews:

    19 Lee…don’t bother with that. A typical troll’s seizing the opportunity to repeat one of the more tiresome wingnut lies. Just like a dog barking at a passing car.

  27. 28

    ArtFart spews:

    It’s pretty commonplace in terminal illness to administer morphine in sufficient quantity to reduce the patient’s evident suffering, and frankly to make the final hours and minutes of life less gruesome to watch for any loved ones present. At this point, death is presumed to be inevitable, but it’s well-known that morphine suppresses respiration and thus surely hastens death by some amount.

    A lot of people were worried sick that the aftermath of the Terri Schiavo extravaganza would be some deterrence against the typical way in which end-stage Alzheimer’s patients are allowed to “slip away” when they finally lose the ability to swallow–administer something for comfort but allow them to expire from dehydration. To prolong things further by IV hydration and nourishment wouldn’t serve any justifiable purpose. Fortunately, that didn’t come to pass.

  28. 29

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    26. Steve spews:
    @24 Geez, it must suck to be reduced to spell checking. But I do hope it gives you a “gotcha” moment to cherish.

    Spellcheck what?
    If he spelled tolerant with two “r”s and I pointed it out that would be spellchecking.
    A moment of unguarded honesty, or maybe even a Freudian slip caused the rabbit to write the truth.

  29. 31

    FricknFrack spews:

    @ 15. ratcityreprobate

    Thanks, I didn’t know that there was a Soundoff associated with his column. Gave me a chance to spew more thoughts.

    @ 30. Lily

    You are most welcome! I think there’s only about a month remaining, just to give you the heads up.