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A Low Blow to the Death With Dignity Act 

House Bill 2016 is an atrocious law, that's why the legislature must smack it down fast and hard, and that's why it and its sponsors are getting THE BOOT.

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For 17 years the opponents of Oregon's landmark Death With Dignity Act have taken a beating every time they tried to fight it. But like a punch-drunk boxer who doesn't know when he's licked, they just keep wading in and swinging.

Oregon voters passed the pioneering legislation handily in 1994 in spite of a scare campaign aimed at making them believe they'd be starting the state down the slippery slope to mass euthanasia. Opponents tried to get the act repealed in 1997; that time they got hammered even worse, with 60% of the votes going against them.

In the courts they didn't do any better. The George W. Bush administration challenged the DWDA but lost before the US Supreme Court in 2006.

Unable to win a fair fight at the polls or in the courts, opponents of the act have taken their cue from Mike Tyson and are trying the political equivalent of ear-biting. House Bill 2016, sponsored by a coalition of nine "values"-oriented conservative legislators (fortunately none from Central Oregon) doesn't aim to kill the DWDA, but would significantly cripple it.

The bill would require a dying person who wants to exercise his rights under the act to undergo counseling with a psychologist or psychiatrist first. The counselor would have to determine that the patient "is not suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment" and file a report with the state.

The bill would lay on dying people the burden of proving they are not mentally unfit. It also would burden them with paying for psychological counseling, and, for many rural Oregonians, the burden of traveling long distances to receive such counseling.

All this psychiatric folderol is totally unnecessary. As the organization Compassion & Choices of Oregon puts it: "No evidence exists that any patient with impaired judgment has taken life-ending medication under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. ... HB 2016 is designed to burden patients and physicians with needless procedures and bureaucratic paperwork."

Why do opponents of the DWDA want to impose these burdens? Why have they fought with such furious determination all these years? There isn't any rational reason.

The DWDA has worked well. None of the horrors the opponents predicted have come true. Hordes of dying people have not flocked to Oregon to end their lives. Family members have not forced Granny to swallow a fistful of barbiturates to get their hands on her money.

No, the true motive of the opponents is that, according to their beliefs and values, helping a dying person end his suffering is "against God's will."

They have the right to believe that. Nobody is forcing them to aid in an assisted suicide. And if they feel morally obliged to have a prolonged, agonizing death, nobody's stopping them.

But they have no right to impose their personal beliefs on everybody in Oregon. That's why HB 2016 is an atrocious law, that's why the legislature must smack it down fast and hard, and that's why it and its sponsors are getting THE BOOT.


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