by CHRIS CARLSON & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & erek Humphry, the refreshingly candid co-founder of the Hemlock Society, has reportedly said on more than one occasion that euthanasia and assisted suicide will ultimately triumph because they make economic sense. One intuits from that statement of economic determinism that he believes the ever-escalating costs of caring for us as we age, coupled with the advances in the technology of modern medicine that are lengthening our lives, are inevitable forces headed for a collision.

He believes economics will win out over the ideals we've adhered to since the founding of the Republic; ideals that say all life is precious and of inestimable value. Period. No caveats! No buts! No maybes!

This fatalistic sense of inevitability of course applies primarily to the poor, the disabled, the disadvantaged, the middle class and those with only modest insurance coverage. Like it or not, we all already know that, to parrot the words of an old Peter, Paul and Mary folk song, life is something that money can buy, at least a longer life, and the rich do live longer and the poor do die sooner.

But do we as a state really want to take the step of formally allowing HMOs and our insurance companies to prescribe lethal drugs? That's what a Washington state ballot initiative could do if it gets on the ballot and is passed this November.

It has taken a generation of progressive political action to get health insurers to treat patients fairly, to force them to cover adequate maternity care, breast cancer screening and pain medications. Now we're going to allow those same HMOs to prescribe lethal drugs? Now we're going to allow those HMOs to advise those diagnosed with terminal illnesses that they have, well, you know, the option of asking a doctor for a prescription they can administer to themselves and thereby kill themselves? Think of the money you may save your estate and the inheritance for your kids? Think of the money you may save society? Think how you'll be helping to keep down others' health insurance rates?

And while we're at it, why not abolish all those anti-suicide hotlines we pay for? And let's forget about having firefighters and emergency responders risk their lives by trying to stop someone from jumping off a bridge or high building? I mean, once society sanctions suicide at any time for any reason, let's be consistent about it. Right?

Some proponents will say this is an exaggeration, that all they are talking about is a few people who want power over the end of their lives but would like the state to sanction it and doctors to help it. And oh, by the way, we'll change the law to mandate that the physician has to falsify the death certificate and list the underlying illness as the cause, and not suicide. To hell with informing the family or keeping accurate statistics for any Bureau of Vital Statistics. And if we call it something else, there'll be no stigma attached to it despite an autopsy report that will show a lethal concoction of barbiturates in the stomach of the deceased.

So what is the price of suicide? Can it really be calculated as some sort of cost-benefit analysis?

But wait a minute. Are there more fundamental questions people should be asking themselves first? I think so.

Are we not really talking about life and death here? Certainly for some, if not many, the answer is yes.

Are matters of life and death really something that should be decided by an initiative? Isn't this more than just deciding whether to curtail taxes, cap government spending or pay more for infrastructure?

Shouldn't matters like this first be vetted by our elected representatives, and then, if they cannot resolve it, take the legal recourse of appealing to the people? This matter has never been heard by the Washington legislature.

Isn't the issue of physician-assisted suicide one of those controversial "wedge issues" designed to drive us apart as a people instead of bring us together by focusing on what we share in common and what our hopes are?

Is there really a crying need for this change? Are doctors demanding it? Are other folks in the medical community demanding it?

Do you really believe Derek Humphry is correct -- that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide will prevail because they make economic sense?

If so, admit you believe life has a finite value, that there is an acceptable price for suicide and by all means sign your own death warrant and vote for it. But I'm betting you'll be in a decided minority by the time it comes to vote, because most people really do recognize what is in their best interests, their families and their society.

And approving assisted suicide is not an acceptable answer to any of life's challenges.

Chris Carlson is chairman of the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide.

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