Joel Connelly has been fairly sensitive about the criticism he’s been receiving over his opposition to I-1000, the Death with Dignity Initiative. I’ve certainly been contributing to his agitation, so I want to take the time to go through his latest column with a little less snark. There are a lot of important life-and-death issues involved here, but I don’t see them being addressed by Connelly. Instead, he gives us contrived ‘gotchas’ that have little relation to why this initiative is happening and why it’s so important.
The overall theme of his column is similar to what he’s tried to claim in the past, that I-1000 is something being foisted upon Washington State by an advocacy group. He writes:
If you read the 2007 report of the Death With Dignity National Center, however, what emerges is that the Evergreen State was carefully chosen, as it were, to revive a movement lately on life support.
It is a tale of behind-thescenes manipulation, candidly laid out by the manipulators:
“We have spent the last year actively researching and collecting data to determine the state which is most likely to adopt a Death with Dignity law,” said the annual report.
“Through these efforts we have identified Washington as the state most likely … We, at the Death with Dignity National Center, are proud to provide our political experience and expertise to these talented and committed people of Washington.”
This is neither unusual nor alarming. Nationally-based advocacy groups with limited funds are always making decisions like this. They rely mostly on donations from individual citizens and don’t have any interest in throwing their limited resources away for a cause they can’t win. Every state in the country has people advocating for laws like this. The Death with Dignity National Center judged (justifiably) that Washington is a state where they are most likely to succeed. If that’s “manipulation,” then so is every political donation in the country.
In our modern political climate, issues like Death with Dignity, which don’t find themselves allied with corporate interests, struggle to influence legislatures directly. Despite its faults, the initiative process is geared towards issues like this, issues that are strictly in the interest of individual citizens who find that government isn’t responsive to them.
Connelly cynically dismisses how the campaign has been putting the local media in touch with signature gatherers with a personal stake in this, as if they are merely puppets of special interests and not individuals with powerful and reasonable interests in changing the law. He couldn’t be more disingenuous. Or more hypocritical. He writes:
I will vote against I-1000. My reasons stem from personal experience, as well as my understanding of an underpinning of our democratic society: Its purpose must be to safeguard and enhance life, especially among the youngest, the weakest and the suffering.
When I first encountered Connelly’s opposition to this initiative, my initial thought was that I had incorrectly assumed that he was pro-choice. I hadn’t. The man who believes that the underpinning of our democratic society is “to safeguard and enhance life, especially among the youngest, the weakest and the suffering,” apparently also believes that the underpinning of our democratic society is something completely different when it comes to abortion.
This is the danger in trying to oversimplify the issue. Trying to come up with these kinds of absolutes about the value of life almost inevitably leads to irreconcilable contradictions. How many millions of people in this country believe that abortion should be illegal, but also believe that the death penalty is just dandy? How many people who fought tooth and nail to keep Terry Schiavo alive barely flinched when we went to war in Iraq?
This realization lacks the ability to be shrunk to a bumper sticker, but the value of “life” can never be the simple absolute that so many wish it to be, and demanding that government try to define it as such is a genuine mistake. Telling a terminally-ill person with a painful or debilitating illness that their own life is so in need of protection that it overrides their own wishes is not much different from telling a date-rape victim that the fetus she’s carrying is a life in need of protection that overrides her wishes as well. In both cases, difficult moral choices are being made by the government, rather than the individual, and this is what has motivated so many signature gatherers around the state this year.