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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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Posted by Will of Horse's Ass

11:05 AM, Jul 08, 2008

Well, if you go by the ballot title, you should call it "death with dignity" or a similar variation, and not call it "assisted suicide", since a judge ruled that the latter term had too negative a connotation to be used in the ballot title. But, as you said, you don't always follow the rules.

Typical blogger!

Posted by Particle Man

2:59 PM, Jul 08, 2008

David, the governor should always be referred to as: The honorable governor Christine Gregoire.

Oh, and the other candidate should always be referred to as that rat Rossi.

As for "death with dignity" this is what the voters are getting a chance to allow.

Posted by John

8:03 AM, Jul 09, 2008

The need to sugar coat the name is telling.
Repackaging the name isn't going to make it less than the crime that it is.
This should make it perfectly clear to all voters how horrible the bill is.
From birth to death can't these liberal leave us alone.

Posted by The Mery Chippus

2:27 PM, Jul 09, 2008

John, that's exactly what this initiative is trying to do -- leaving you alone to make your own decision. No "liberal" is trying to kill you. BTW, there are plenty of Republican supporters of I-1000, too -- this is NOT a "liberal" initiative. If anything, it's libertarian in nature.

Posted by John

3:47 PM, Jul 09, 2008

The Mery Chippus,

This is liberalism; we call this the frog in boiling water syndrome.

Phase two is, old people will put a heavy burden on state.

This is a slippery slope if enacted.

Posted by Suicide is not a dirty word

5:59 PM, Jul 09, 2008

Unfortunately suicide has such a negative connotation in this society. Suicide is more common than people realize, but people donít feel free to talk about it. Theyíre worried about what people will think ill of their loved one. A death certificate must be filed with one of five different manners of death: Natural, Accident, Suicide, Homicide or Undetermined. If you donít consider an intentional overdose of medication suicide what do you call it, regrettably, I can not recognize that death as natural, which is how the law in Oregon forces the medical examiner to categorize it. If you want my vote you need to create another manner of death that is accurate and satisfies the insurance companies. Death certificates are used for statistical purposes and prompt medical research; I think it is a disservice to the public to put inaccurate information on such an important legal document. As it is right now, people in that much pain could take all of their pain meds on the day they get their prescription filled. Why do they need the doctorís okay, to make their decision moral? We need to be open about SUICIDE and not look down our noses at people who are obviously in pain.

Posted by NMTucson

6:45 AM, Jul 28, 2008

John, the interesting thing about words is that NONE of them are THE term for something. We choose every word we use, and we define them by our use. To say that one term is "sugar coating" while another is "the real term" ignores the fact that others see the act completely differently from how you see it, and in this glorious free and democratic country, they have as much right to their view as you have to yours.

Oregon's example has shown that only a small fraction of citizens will ever use it, and the numbers have stayed relatively stable. Washington will undoubtedly see the same effect--small, but critical to those who use the law.

Let's be honest: the only people who could use this law will be dying within weeks or days NO MATTER WHAT--that's why we call them "terminal". Not having this law will not save a single person from dying. But having this law WILL make some of those deaths less agonizing.

Why would you want to deny that to your fellow citizens?

Posted by Pauline

8:37 AM, Jul 28, 2008

Dear Sir,

After I passed 50, I realized that none of us is going to get out of this alive.

The power of words is astounding... "SUICIDE"... or aid in dying, or death with dignity, or "going gentle into the good night.

People who have NOT had enough of life and long for the peace of the long sleep, should not attempt to interfere with those whose suffering will last until the end of their days.

Life always ends in death, who but the person who is dying has the right to decide when enough suffering, loss of dignity, horror is enough?

The religious right screams so loud about "assisted suicide"... as if the person had an option about dying. When you ARE dying... you have the right to choose your own path. It would be nice if everyone simply passed away in their sleep, pain free... without suffering the tortures of the damned to finally close their eyes the last time.

It would be nice to have someone there to hold your hand as you slip away... it would be nice for families to have the chance to say goodbye. It would be a kind thing to do to ease the inevitable pain of all concerned.

I know first hand about this... I have had dozens of my relatives die in the past 50 years... some were so lucky, they were healthy until they died painlessly and quickly. Some lost their health a little at a time, but did OK, until they passed on. Others suffered horribly because of a lack of proper medication to ease pain.


Before you dismiss me as someone with no experience in this, my 35 year old son blew his brains out 10 years ago... he was dying horribly of end state aids acquired by transfusion a decade earlier. He was suffering horribly, there was no doubt that he would be dead with in a few months and he knew that he had enough. Because there was no "Death with Dignity" provision in California, he died alone and we are all left with such a feeling of unfinished business and regret that he had to go into the darkness with no one to hold his hand.

All because, the religious and the extreme right feel, underneath it all... that if you are suffering, it is because you deserve it.... and your family as well. I know because I had religious people tell me that to my face.

I have no objection if they want to suffer, let them choose that. But, they don't have the right to make other people suffer... if they truly believed in a God, they would believe he would handle any punishment AFTER death. If they truly believed in Life After Death and a kind and loving God, they should hardly object the dying of people who ARE going to DIE, it is NOT as if it is a choice between DYING and LIVING. It is a choice between dying and dying HORRIBLY.

That is what makes the responsibility of the media influential... WORDS COUNT...

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