Liar, Liar

Measure 16 camp’s flirtation with bigotry is bad enough,
but their commercials are – again – flatly fraudulent

By David Reinhard

[This editorial appeared in the Sunday Oregonian, October 19, 1997]

Measure 16 author Barbara Coombs Lee denies she’s a religious bigot or Catholic basher. The heart wants to believe her – no one wants to think someone so savvy would traffic in such raw intolerance – but the mind has doubts.

If her words about “the dictates of the pope” or her camp’s bid to make Measure 51 a referendum on the Catholic church aren’t religious bigotry, they at least tiptoe up to the line. Substitute other religions each time Measure 16’s defenders say “Catholic church,” and tell me it does not make your skin crawl.

But let’s give Coombs Lee and company the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume the best motives. Let’s look, instead, at something we can judge with precision: the truthfulness of their no-on-51 campaign ads.

One radio spot blasts “religious right wing politicians,” Lon Mabon and the Oregon Citizens Alliance for getting the Legislature to take the historic step of trying to repeal a voter-passed initiative: They will “waste a million of your tax dollars in election costs just so they can force us to think and be just like them. …It’s time to say no to Lon Mabon and the OCA, time to say no to religious right-wing politicians.” The spot is paid for by the “Don’t Let ‘em Shove Their Religion Down Your Throat Committee,” a subsidiary of the anti-Measure 51 campaign.

The ad is staggering in both its claims and sponsorship. First, it is technically true that the Legislature has never asked voters to repeal the exact act voters have passed. In 1920, however, the Legislature got voters to restore the death penalty, six years after the voters had abolished it.

As for wasting millions on an election, the fact is that this year’s election would be going on if Measure 51 was on the ballot or not. Why? Because there’s another state-wide issue on this November’s mail ballot.

Now, we all know it’s seldom bad politics or even bad policy to lambaste Mabon and the OCA. Heaven knows, I’ve done my share. But Mabon and the OCA have almost nothing to do with Measure 51. The OCA endorsed the measure. That’s it. It’s given the Yes-on-51 campaign neither cash nor aid.

About those right-wing religious politicians the ad stews about? Nobody’s ever accused Rep. Bryan Johnston of being a right-winger – a left-winger, maybe – yet the Salem Democrat is prominent in the move to repeal Measure 16. Portland Democrat Avel Gordly supported the revote in the Senate. The Oregon Medical Association, State Council of Senior Citizens and Hospice Association – these groups endorse Measure 51. Are they nests of right-wing religious fanatics? Give voters a break – and credit.

Here’s something especially amazing. Some of the cash behind this radio campaign is from Loren Parks – one of Oregon’s more prominent right-wingers. Talk about cynical.

Finally, the 2,500-year-old ban against doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia doesn’t stem from religions’ forcing their morality on anybody. The Hippocratic Oath, scholars Leon Kass and Nelson Lund remind us, is the product of Greek antiquity: “The Oath is fundamentally pagan and medical, and it has no connection with biblical religion or the Judeo-Christian doctrines of the sanctity of life…” they write, “The Oath’s survival…is attributable to the wisdom of its contents, repeatedly recognized and reaffirmed by physicians down to the present.”

This radio ad is a model of rectitude next to one no-on-51 television commercial. It says, “politicians and the Catholic church” (there we go again) are lying about a study showing Measure 16 is flawed. “The truth is you could look forever and you won’t find that study because it doesn’t exist, it’s simply not true,” a voice-over states. Three doctors say, “Show me the study.”

It’s showtime! The Royal Dutch Society for the Advancement of Pharmacology conducted a l994 study of suicide patients who took oral medications. Did the pills lead to the short, sweet deaths Sixteen’s defenders pledge? No. Doctors had to complete 20 percent of these suicides with lethal injections. Why? Patients fell asleep before finishing the drugs or experienced “hindered breathing.” Measure 16, of course, bans injections in these cases. Another 4 percent took more than five hours to die.

That’s a 24 percent “failure rate” (euthanasia advocates’ phrase) – and this doesn’t include the 10 to 20 percent of dying patients who, a prominent Dutch euthanasia advocate says, cannot swallow oral medications.

The sheer untruthfulness of this ad is awesome, but not at all surprising. The 1994 campaign was not over before we learned their most compelling anecdote was bogus.

In the misty campaign ads, nurse Patty Rosen talked about how her terminally ill daughter Jody had slipped peacefully away after she gave her pills to end her life. Yet in an earlier telling, Rosen said things had not gone so smoothly. She said she had “hit a vein” – given a lethal injection – and that her son was ready to put a pillow over Jody’s head if this didn’t take. Not the sweet, swift exit the Measure 16 campaign was – is – promising.

There is one truth in the new anti-51 TV ad that Oregonians can bank on. “Any campaign not based on the truth,” the voice-over says, “is fundamentally and fatally flawed.”

Like this ad. Like Measure 16 itself.