Voters approved Initiative 1000, an assisted suicide measure that would make Washington the second state to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication for terminally ill patients seeking to hasten their deaths.

Share story

Washington will become the second state to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication for terminally ill patients seeking to hasten their deaths.

Initiative 1000 — referred to by supporters as a “death-with-dignity” act and by opponents as an “assisted-suicide” measure — was leading in most counties across the state Tuesday.

“I’m elated,” said former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner, who filed the initiative and was one of its biggest campaign contributors. Gardner is battling Parkinson’s disease, though Parkinson’s is not considered a terminal disease that would qualify under the initiative.

Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, a national right-to-die organization based in Denver that has provided financial backing for I-1000, said her group hopes to pass similar initiatives in other states in the future, though it hasn’t selected any specific states yet.

“We think the citizens of all 50 states deserve death with dignity,” she said.

Eileen Geller, campaign coordinator for the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide which opposed I-1000, said her group would look at various options to continue the fight against the measure.

“Clearly we know it’s a bad law,” she said. “We spoke out against I-1000 because we think it’s dangerous. It puts low-income and vulnerable people at risk.”

Still, the hard-fought campaign was “a wake-up call for the state of Washington” that there needs to be improved access and support for end-of-life care, Geller said.

I-1000, modeled on a decade-old Oregon law, permits terminally ill, competent adult residents of Washington, who are medically predicted to have six months or less to live, to request and self-administer lethal medication prescribed by a physician.

The measure protects doctors from being prosecuted under a state law forbidding anyone from aiding in a suicide attempt.

Much of the campaign was deeply personal, with those on each side relaying stories of the last days of loved ones.

Initiative supporters said terminally ill patients who are suffering great pain should have the choice to hasten their deaths in a “humane and dignified” manner. They said the measure includes many safeguards, and that no abuses have been found in Oregon in the 10 years the law has been in effect there.

Opponents said end-of-life care has advanced to the point where pain can be controlled. They also said there would be no way of really knowing if safeguards are working because very little information about specific cases would be public and there wouldn’t be an independent review of possible abuses.

The I-1000 campaign was the costliest of this year’s statewide initiatives, with more than $6.5 million raised from individuals and organizations inside and outside Washington state on both sides.

Initiative supporters raised about $4.9 million. The biggest backers included Compassion & Choices and Death with Dignity, another national right-to-die organization, along with Gardner.

Initiative opponents raised about $1.6 million. The biggest donors included Catholic groups such as the Knights of Columbus, the Seattle Archdiocese and other dioceses.

This is the second time Washington residents have voted on a physician-assistance-in-dying measure.

In 1991, Washington voters rejected Initiative 119, which would have allowed doctors to write prescriptions to hasten death, but unlike I-1000, would have also allowed them to administer lethal injections to terminally ill patients who weren’t able to take the medications on their own.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com