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Posts published in “Day: March 4, 2010”

Why they died

Washington state has released its first annual report on the death with dignity" law that took effect a year ago tomorrow. What it says reflects closely what the law's advocates have argued.

As the report defines it, the law (passed by initiative) "allows terminally ill adults seeking to end their lives in a humane and dignified manner to request lethal doses of medication from medical and osteopathic physicians. These terminally ill patients must be Washington residents who have six months (180 days) or less to live."

Concerns about mass abuse were unfounded, as they were in Oregon. From March 5 through the end of last year, fatal doses were prescribed to 63 people, a number roughly mirroring (allowing for population differences) Oregon's. Of those, 36 people died after taking the medication; of the others, some died without ever taking it, and some haven't taken it so far. About four of five of the 63 had cancer; 89% were insured. Only one indicated that financial concerns played a role in asking for the medication.

So what was the motivation? Of the 44 who responded to that question, all replied, "losing autonomy." 40 of them: "Less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable." And 36 of them: "Loss of dignity."

"Death with dignity" may be a catchphrase chosen for political acceptability, but it actually does seem to mirror the attitudes for the people who use the law.

Priorities

Money decisions are where your priorities hit the road. Talk is cheap; when you decide how money is allocated, you're putting something closer to your true self out there.

That seems to be hitting home with Idaho state Senator Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, who is a member of the legislative budget committee but not part of its operative majority. Watching the committee slice away at the state Department of Health & Welfare, she responded with a blog post unusual (among legislative blog posts) for its pungency.

Unlike with education budgets yesterday, none of the affected parties were brought in. No stakeholder meetings were held with the disability community, with people with chronic illnesses or with the hospitals, clinics, doctors and nurses to see if this would work out. No, we have handed down a fly by the seat of your pants budget full of intent language acknowledging that it may fall apart by January. And if it does it seems that's ok because January is after the elections.

Fred Wood, maker of the motion, leader of the heartless, had the lack of sensitivity to mention going home as he wove his committee debate this morning there under the grand columns and the domed, cream colored ceiling. This is about going home. Passing this fly by the seat of our pants budget is about going home, not about us as law makers governing or leading or taking seriously our duty to do more than just make the numbers pan out.

Now we will watch the waiting lists grow and we know already that slowly the process is bogging down. Already the Department of Health & Welfare (whose employees are often some of the lowest paid in the state) already they close down half a day every other Friday without pay. Now they will close a whole days, close whole field offices so people if they have a car must drive and wait and perhaps still not get served, still not make it to the front of the line for help for a child, for food or something to get them through now that unemployment has run out.

Representative Wood, the scowling man with the mustache and thick glasses glaring over his microphone said we HAD to cut this budget as we did. He knows as well as I do that a single change in the grocery tax credit would fix this... He knows well that we could vote for one year not to give $40 grocery tax credits to Idahoans earning more than $20,000 a year ($40,000 for married couples.) The whole committee knows that this one simple $35 million change could prevent us from losing $120 million in federal funds and could have completely prevented us from making all these cuts in the Health Assistance budget this year.

There are other options too, such as increasing the number of tax auditors. (The conservative hosts of the Monday Twin Falls radio program where I guest during sessions wonder why that hasn't been done, and it's a good question.) Or - God forbid - actually find a way to raise revenue.

But that's not the priority.