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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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July 8, 2008 8:20 AM

What to call I-1,000

Posted by David Postman

The Associated Press, which often sets the official style for newspapers, will call Initiative 1,000 the “assisted suicide” measure. That’s not good news for sponsors of the measure who have worked hard to frame the debate as something other than suicide. Backers of the initiative call it “Death with Dignity.”

As the Olympian’s Adam Wilson wrote at his blog,

Supporters of I-1000 really don’t like associating someone with six months or less to live, in continuous pain, with "suicide." They see it as a negative connotation.

The issue of what to call the initiative was the subject of a court battle earlier this year. That led to the phrase “aid in dying.”

It’s true, as Wilson wrote, that state newspapers are likely to follow the AP guideline. But the Times is avoiding suicide references, describing the initiative as “aid in dying” or “assistance in dying.”

In Oregon, a similar law has been on the books for more than a decade. It explicitly excludes suicide references.

Nothing in ORS 127.800 to 127.897 shall be construed to authorize a physician or any other person to end a patient's life by lethal injection, mercy killing or active euthanasia. Actions taken in accordance with ORS 127.800 to 127.897 shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law.

However, that hasn’t stopped newspapers - for example here, here and here, -- from referring to assisted suicide.

Here at the blog, I don’t always follow the newspaper’s style. (I refer to the governor as Chris, as she prefers; the paper calls her Christine.) And in this case, I’m still not sure what the right description is for I-1,000. For now, though, I’ll follow the Times' style, but try to describe the initiative as best I can. (And how come some people leave out the comma in “1,000”? It’s a number, right?)

After the jump, Why I'm a dope.

The reason there's no comma in I-1000 is because the style used is not AP newspaper style for numbers, but government, bill-writing style. As it was just pointed out to me by a smart guy, there are no commas in bill numbers. So, let this be a lesson to me to leave matters such as proofreading -- and of course math -- to those who are trained in those fields.

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