"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Death/Assisted qualifies

When 11 years ago Oregon voters approved what called “death with dignity” – aka “assisted suicide” – an unanswerable concern was in the air: Do we really know what the effects might be? In fact, no one could be entirely sure. That ma y be true of most new laws, of course, but the consequences in this case were a little higher than most.

All these years later, we do pretty much know what the effects are, and they have been of smaller scale that most people who voted up or down probably anticipated. The law “allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose,” and the state has collected detailed information on what has happened as a result. In those 11 years, 341 people have died using physician-assisted medications, about 30 a year. (The number of prescriptions is somewhat higher, showing that not everyone who asked for the assistance made use of it.)

Voters in Washington, now that Initiative 1000 – that state’s physician-assisted suicide measure – has qualified for ballot status in November, have an advantage over those Oregon voters. They don’t have to guess what the effects are likely to be. Unless something about the terminally ill in Washington is somehow a lot different from those in Oregon, the effects are likely to be similar. Smaller in scale, in other words, than a lot of people who work themselves up on this issue are likely to think.

Not unimportant, of course – this is a matter of life and death. But no massive sweep of deaths around the state, either.

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