Catholics start fight against assisted suicide initiative
Catholic parishes in Washington have started passing the collection basket Sundays to raise money for the campaign to defeat the assisted suicide measure on the November ballot.
Labor Day weekend was the official kickoff of an “educational program for parishes,” an effort organized by the Washington State Catholic Conference, the lobbying and public policy arm of the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church is the main contributor to the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, the group that has formed to fight Initiative 1000, which supporters call the Death with Dignity campaign.
But despite raising nearly $400,000 in contributions against I-1000, the church and the rest of the coalition are far behind the Yes on 1000 campaign. Supporters of the measure have raised $1.8 million.
I-1000, patterned after a 10-year-old law in Oregon, would allow people with terminal illnesses to obtain prescriptions for lethal doses of drugs if two doctors agree the person has less than six months to live and is not just suffering from depression. Former Gov. Booth Gardner, who has given $170,000 to the campaign, is the measure’s prime sponsor.
Sister Sharon Park, executive director of the state Catholic Conference, announced the education campaign in a posting on the organization’s Web site.
“This program will have two parts: Providing Catholic teachings about end-of-life issues and educating parishioners about the dangers of Initiative 1000, which would legalize assisted suicide,” Park wrote in a memorandum on the Web site. The program also will raise money.
Greg Magnoni, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seattle, said Archbishop Alex Brunett and the other two bishops have authorized 290 local parishes to take up a collection for the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide.
“Materials will be sent to the parishes, and the priest or pastor may say something” during the services, Magnoni said. “It’s voluntary. It’s up to them. There will be envelopes in the pews.”
Park said the church has mobilized because I-1000 runs contrary to a basic church teaching and because its fundraising is far behind the measure’s proponents.
“It’s a vital issue for our society, and it certainly is an issue of paramount importance to us in terms of protecting life,” she said. “What does this do to a society, for a group of people – namely, physicians – to take the lives of their patients?
“The message (if I-1000 passes) would be that some lives are not as valuable as others,” she said. “And that which is legal becomes that which is moral.”
Anne Martens, spokeswoman for the Yes on 1000 campaign, said the initiative campaign is about choice.
“We respect everybody’s faith, but we don’t think they should impose it on the entire state,” Martens said of Catholics. “All I-1000 does is give people the option of death with dignity.”
Martens said the two campaigns are about evenly matched when it comes to cash on hand. Most of the $1.8 million raised by supporters was spent gathering signatures on petitions to get the measure on the ballot.
She said their supporters also will have to raise more money.
“We need to raise enough money to go on television with the ads that are effective in any campaign,” she said. “We don’t have the organized reach that the Catholic Church has, but we do have a lot of small donors.”
Both sides also have many large donors.
Oregon Death with Dignity kicked in $300,000 for the signature-gathering campaign, and Compassion and Choices chapters in Seattle and Denver contributed $150,000 and $100,000 respectively.
The coalition’s largest contributors are Catholic Church dioceses and parishes in Seattle, Spokane, Mercer Island, Denver, Portland, Philadelphia, Renton and Biloxi, Miss., which have kicked in between $5,000 and $50,000 each.
Park said DVDs and brochures that explain the church’s reasons for opposing I-1000, as well as posters for display, also will be sent to parishes. The Knights of Columbus, another church group, volunteered to help distribute the materials and voter registrations.
Chris Carlson, chairman of the coalition against I-1000, said the coalition is paying for the advocacy materials that are being distributed to the parishes to keep the church from running afoul of state election laws.
“The church will have them printed up and send us a bill,” he said.
The churches are permitted to hand out their own materials as long as they are educational and explain the church’s position and are not advocacy materials.
“We’re the advocacy group,” Carlson said. “We’re the ones who can urge people to vote no.”
And while churches can pass the basket and collect money for the I-1000 opposition campaign, they must keep that money separate from general church contributions, he said, and each donor must identify himself for reporting to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Churches, however, also are allowed to contribute money from their general fund to the campaign, he said.
Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436