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One Man’s Dying Wish—Literally a Death Wish

Those from the East Coast may not know the name of Booth Gardner.  But West Coast folks know it well.  Gardner was a two-term Democratic Governor of Washington State between 1985 and 1993.  He is also a multimillionaire heir of the Weyerhaeuser fortune, the billion dollar pulp and paper company.  The 71 year old Gardner is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and has taken upon himself one last fantastic political campaign: “The biggest fight of my career,” he said in a December 2, 2007, New York Times article.  The nature of the campaign?  To eradicate Parkinson’s disease?  To assist families struggling with chronically ill members?  No.  Rather, to legalize doctor-assisted self-killing in all 50 states.  Gardner is the big money, celebrity endorsement and Promethean energy behind Washington State’s Initiative 1000, the assisted suicide law which residents of Washington will vote upon on November 4.


Pro-lifers remember well the passage of Oregon’s so-called Death with Dignity Act by way of a narrowly passed ballot measure in 1994 (51 to 49 percent).  Perhaps not so well known is just how active—and unsuccessful—the physician assisted suicide (PAS) movement has been since the successful passage of the Oregon measure.  You might be surprised.  Four State ballot initiatives have failed, one each in Washington, California, Michigan and Maine.  And over 80 State legislative bills in 21 States have failed: Alaska (1), Arizona (6), California (5), Colorado (2), Connecticut (2), Hawaii (17), Illinois (1), Louisiana (1), Maine (3), Maryland (2), Massachusetts (2), Michigan (4), Mississippi (1), Nebraska (3), New Hampshire (3), New Mexico (1), New York (4), Rhode Island (2), Vermont (7), Washington (3), Wisconsin (12).
With such a consistent failure rate, why should anyone get worked up over Washington’s Initiative 1000?  Local and national organizations opposing PAS, chief among which is the well organized Coalition Against Assisted Suicide (CAAS), are convinced that this initiative, if successful, will mark a turning point in the national debate.  The stars, as it were, are aligned and star watchers see the Washington State initiative as a kind of national referendum on the right to die.  And that’s exactly what millionaire Gardner intends it to be. “This will be the biggest fight of my career,” he says.  And the logic, he thinks, is on his side.  In fact, he says: “My logic is impeccable.  My life, my death, my control.”  To Gardner and his constituency, ‘it’s all about me.’  This egotistical anthem is for many around the country a sort of divine warrant for action; and I-1000 is being actively underwritten by people from all 50 States.  Over half the 2 million dollars the initiative has received in support has come from outside the State of Washington.
The New York Times commented on the Gardner strategy:
Gardner’s campaign is a compromise; he sees it as a first step. If he can sway Washington to embrace a restrictive law, then other states will follow. And gradually, he says, the nation’s resistance will subside, the culture will shift and laws with more latitude will be passed.
Gardner desires more than I-1000’s passage.  He desires also to kill himself—“I can’t see where anybody benefits by my hanging around.”  Unfortunately, he says, the initiative would not win for him the liberty to realize his desire.  The initiative would only legalize the killing of terminally ill patients, not patients like Gardner who suffer from a chronic disease.  But he sees I-1000 as a first step toward a more widely practiced right to PAS.

Anyone interested in reading the proposed Washington State statute (Initiative 1000) can access it at: www.secstate.wa.gov/elections/initiatives/text/i1000.pdf [1] .  For those interested in helping with the defeat of I-1000, please visit the CAAS website at www.NoAssistedSuicide.com [2]

Dr. Chirstian E. Brugger [3]   is Senior Fellow in Ethics of the Culture of Life Foundation


Photo by Katy Grannan for The New York Times

Copyright 2008.  Reproduction granted with attribution required