Opponents of I-1000 recruit Martin Sheen to convince voters that I-1000 will take advantage of the poor, will allow people suffering from depression to use physician assisted suicide, and will hide the true cause of death from family members.
Claim #1: It’s a dangerous idea that could be imposed on the poor, disabled, and most vulnerable in our society.
Proponents against the measure suggest that people who do not have adequate health insurance may be pressured to take a lethal dose of medication rather than receive end-of-life care or medical assistance such as chemotherapy.
A journal article (pdf) published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 2007 reports that:
Rates of assisted dying in Oregon and in the Netherlands showed no evidence of heightened risk for the elderly, women, the uninsured (inapplicable in the Netherlands, where all are insured), people with low educational status, the poor, the physically disabled or chronically ill, minors, people with psychiatric illnesses including depression, or racial or ethnic minorities, compared with background populations. The only group with a heightened risk was people with AIDS.
Claim #2: Initiative 1000 tells doctors it’s OK to give a lethal drug overdose to a seriously ill person, even if they are suffering from depression.
The first part of this statement is partially correct, but does not elaborate on the requirements that must be met before a patient can be prescribed a lethal dose of medication. As explained in the online Washington State Voter Guide:
This measure would allow a terminally ill, competent, adult Washington resident who is medically predicted to have six months or less to live, to request and self-administer lethal medication prescribed by a physician.
There are several safeguards in the Initiative (pdf) to prevent misuse:
- To qualify, the patient must be a competent Washington resident, suffering from a terminal disease with less than six months to live, and have made a voluntary choice to die .
- The attending physician must ensure that the patient meets this criteria, knows of their disease and prognosis, and is aware of alternatives such as hospice or pain control .
- A consulting physician must confirm the findings of the attending physician .
- To receive the prescription, the patient must make two oral requests and one written request with at least 15 days between the two oral requests and at least 48 hours between the written request and the written prescription .
The second part of the claim “even if they are suffering from depression” is false. Section 6 of the Initiative explains that if either the attending or consulting physician determine that the patient is suffering from depression, the patient is referred to a counselor for treatment. The patient will not receive the requested prescription until the counselor deems the patient is not suffering from depression.
Claim #3: Your spouse could die by assisted suicide and you wouldn’t have to be told.
To preserve patient-doctor confidentiality laws, the initiative does not require a patient tell family members about their choice. However, Initiative 1000 requires the attending physician to recommend that family or next of kin are notified by the patient about their choice to take a lethal medication . The death certificate will “list the underlying terminal disease as the cause of death .”
- Initiative Measure 1000 Text (pdf); Section 2, 4, 4.1.d, 4.2, 5, 11, n.d.
- Legal physician-assisted dying in Oregon and the Netherlands: Evidence concerning the impact on patients in ‘‘vulnerable’’ groups (pdf), Journal of Medical Ethics, 2007
- Secretary of State, Online Voter Guide, I-1000 Explanatory Statement, n.d.