Joe Turner at the News Tribune asked the same question after receiving the same e-mail from the communications director for the “Death with Dignity” initiative.
Anne Martens wrote introducing herself and asked that we avoid using the term “assisted suicide.”
While we would (of course) prefer that you describe I-1000 as “death with dignity,” we ask that you avoid the emotionally loaded and inaccurate term “assisted suicide,” and instead describe I-1000 in the neutral term approved by Thurston County Superior Court – “aid in dying.” On background, I’ve attached a quick fact sheet on why.
As the TNT is doing, I’m asking for your feedback. I would agree with Martens that the term “assisted suicide” is emotionally loaded. I’m not sure it’s inaccurate.
The big red dictionary (“Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition”) on my desk describes suicide as “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally esp. by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind.” That would certainly fit the definition being offered in Initiative 1000.
Generally, though, we regard suicide as something that happens when someone chooses to end life because of depression, or some such malady. This initiative would argue that in some cases the ending of one’s life voluntarily is something people in certain situations ought to have the right to do.
And a judge in Thurston County agreed that the word “suicide” is so loaded that it does create an image that’s inaccurate. That might be true. It’s the same with the word “discrimination.” We discriminate all the time, in choices as simple as picking which can of peas we’ll buy, or whether we prefer fresh peas, instead. The word “discrimination,” though, has commonly come to be attributed to the kind that excludes genders and races.
I’d curious to see your thoughts on the matter. Read the extended version of this post, which contains the attachment Martens included.
Death With Dignity
Aid in Dying is Not Suicide
• Reporters and editors often use the term “assisted suicide” to describe a terminally ill patient trying to shorten an intolerable dying process.
==> This term is biased and negative. It also leads doctors, medical organizations, and family members to worry that the incorrect use of the term “suicide” will harm patients and their loved ones.
==> Thurston County Superior Court found this term “loaded” and over-broad, saying that it would cause the public to think of things that the initiative does not allow. For these reasons, the Court ruled that the voters’ pamphlet description of I-1000 must use the impartial term “aid in dying” instead.
• A neutral term that more accurately reflects the conscious decision of a competent and terminally ill patient’s voluntary choice is “aid in dying.”
==> “Aid in dying” is the impartial language used in the voters’ pamphlet description of I-1000 as approved by Thurston County Superior Court.
==> This correct and unbiased phrase is also the preferred language of the American Medical Student Association, the American Medical Women’s Association, the American Public Health Association, the Washington State Psychological Association and the Oregon Department of Human Services.
THE REASONS WHY
• “Suicide” is a hurtful and derogatory term that invokes depression and irrationality, terrorist bombers and violence. To label aid in dying as suicide is harmful to both dying patients and their loved ones.
==> There is a fundamental difference between a person who irrationally rejects life, and a person who loves life but faces suffering and prolonged deterioration leading to inevitable and imminent death.
• Cancer patient Char Andrews told the National Press Club it is “an insult” to her fight against cancer to call her choice “suicide.”
• Cancer patient Jack Newbold told reporters that he resented the media announcing that he was going to kill himself. “I am not committing suicide, and I don’t want to die,” he said, “I’m not killing myself; cancer is taking care of that.”
Excerpted from “No ‘suicide’ label on initiative”
By Richard Roesler
The Spokane Spokesman-Review, March 2, 2008
In a victory for Washington’s proposed Death With Dignity initiative, a judge on Friday refused to add the words “physician-assisted suicide” to the ballot or official voters pamphlet description.
“It is a somewhat loaded term,” said Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham. He said it conjures up images of Jack Kevorkian, the Michigan physician who claimed to have helped more than 100 people die before being convicted of murder in one of the cases.
Instead of “suicide,” voters will read that Initiative 1000 would allow some terminally ill patients “to request and self-administer lethal medication” prescribed by a doctor. Wickham’s decision largely upheld a description written by the state attorney general’s office.
Excerpted from “Please don’t call it suicide”
Letter from Louse Schaefer, Lincoln, CA
The Sacramento Bee, Sunday, April 8, 2007
All I am asking for is to have some choice over how I die. Portraying me as suicidal is disrespectful and hurtful to me and my loved ones. It adds insult to injury by dismissing all that I have already endured; the failed attempts for a cure, the progressive decline of my physical state and the anguish which has involved exhaustive reflection and contemplation leading me to this very personal and intimate decision about my own life and how I would like it to end.
Physicians and Professional groups agree:
Dr. Charles F. McKhann – In his 2004 testimony submitted to the House of Lords, Dr. McKhann, M.D., noted U.S. cancer specialist and former professor of surgery at Yale University, said: “Terms such as murder, self-murder (suicide), killing and doctor-executioner are used deliberately to inflate passions and stifle reason. There is so obviously a difference between murder and helping a person die at his own request that gross attempts to blur the distinctions are offensive.”
The American Public Health Association, one of the most esteemed health care organizations in the nation, also recognizes the profound difference between a typical “suicide” and a terminally ill, mentally competent adult to take life-ending medication to end suffering. The APHA urges health educators, policy makers, journalists and health care providers to refer to this choice in “accurate, value-neutral terms such as ‘aid in dying’ or ‘patient-directed dying.’ ”