The Church is taking an assertive stand against doctor-assisted suicide, joining a widely publicized campaign in this state to repeal a law that permits it.
Oregon became the first state to legalize doctor-assisted suicide when Measure 16 was narrowly passed by Oregon voters in November 1994. Now, the measure has cleared the U.S. Supreme Court and is about to be practiced.However, Oregon citizens have placed a repeal measure on the November ballot. A campaign is currently underway on this measure and is well publicized on the local and national levels. Both proponents and opponents of legalizing doctor-assisted suicide in other states are watching closely to see what the outcome will be, say Church leaders in Oregon.
In a letter to priesthood leaders in Oregon on Sept. 5, the North America Northwest Area presidency said:
"In November 1994 the citizens of Oregon passed Measure 16, which, for the first time, legalized physician-assisted suicide. Implementation of this undesirable law has been delayed by court challenges, but the United States Supreme Court has recently ruled that states are able to enact such laws, clearing the way for physician-assisted suicide in Oregon."
The area presidency asked that the letter be read in priesthood and Relief Society meetings.
The letter mentioned the campaign underway to persuade voters to repeal the law by public ballot in November, and encouraged members "to study this issue and, if you choose, to participate in the November ballot."
The letter also quoted a First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve statement of May 29, 1997, that reads:
"A fundamental doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that each person is a child of God. Consequently, life - a gift from God - is sacred and to be cherished. The Lord has commanded that man should not kill `nor do anything like unto it.' (D&C 59:6.)
"One who assists the suicide of another violates God's commandments. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes the judicial or legislative legalization of such assistance."
The area presidency letter concluded saying: "We pray for the blessings of the Lord to be with each one of you as you become `anxiously engaged in good causes, using the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ as [your] constant guide. (First Presidency's statement on citizen responsibility, September, 1968).' "
The Proclamation on the Family also states: "We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society."
Pres. Paul S. Clayson of the Portland Oregon Stake said the campaign has received a lot of attention. "It is being watched across the country by organizations on both sides of the issue trying to prevail with their cause."
Other states, he said, "have measures drafted, ready to go, pending the outcome of the election in Oregon." However, if the effort to begin doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon fails, "this presents a significant setback to the effort to try to spread assisted suicide across the country."
He expects the efforts of Church members, who comprise the second largest religious denomination in Oregon, to make a significant impact on the campaign. "We have a very active presence here with 35 stakes (129,000 members)," he said.
Church leaders also met with Archbishop Francis George of the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, who represents the largest denomination in Oregon. The Catholics are also actively opposing doctor-assisted suicide.
"We have the two largest churches in the state standing shoulder to shoulder in opposition to this assisted-suicide law, and in support of its repeal," said Pres. Clayson. He also noted that the Oregon Medical Association voted 121-1 to reject doctor-assisted suicide as a way to prevent prolonged suffering and pain for the terminally ill, and cited the 1994 measure as "seriously flawed."
"We have seen all kinds of efforts from Church members, such as writing letters to the editor and writing guest editorials for local publications," said Pres. Clayson.
"We have members who have gone on radio and television talk shows, and they have put out thousands of lawn signs. Many have volunteered time to work on voter identification or to raise funds."
The members are working hard to stop doctor-assisted suicide, said Pres. Clayson, because when this kind of a law takes hold, it creates "a slippery slope in terms of where it goes in the future. Once you begin sliding downhill with respect to upholding the sanctity of life, the slide moves more quickly and may lead eventually to involuntary euthanasia.
"This is a very frightening prospect. When the adversary is successful in influencing an issue like this, it gives him a foothold, and over time can change the feeling and respect for the sanctity of life, a change that began with the abortion issue.
"As members of the Church, we need to stand up and say, `We want to provide the love and counsel and responsibility and help for those who are terminally ill, just as we do for a newborn baby. We owe that to people. It teaches respect for life. It is part of our learning process in mortality.' "