Assisted suicide backers raise millions in Washington State

Supporters of this year's assisted suicide measure repeatedly predicted they would be outspent by the opposition, primarily the Roman Catholic Church.

But the reality has been the opposite. Backers of Initiative 1000 now say the campaign in Washington is the best-funded drive for physician-assisted suicide ever, with more than three times the money as the opposition.

"While the Catholic Church did mobilize voters against it, they did not put in the effort they have in the past. And the proximity of Oregon I think helps, you know we've had 10 years of experience there," said Anne Martens, spokeswoman for the Yes on I-1000 campaign.

Oregon is the only state in the country to allow terminally ill patients to get prescriptions for lethal drugs. Voter surveys show that Washington could be the second to adopt such a law by passing I-1000

Part of the pro-I-1000 strategy was to cast Catholics as the only opposition, said Chris Carlson, the chairman of the Collation Against Assisted Suicide.

"It was a myth," he said. "I feel part of what they were doing was not-too-thinly disguised bigotry toward the membership of the Catholic Church."

The backers of the initiative have raised $5.5 million, including $500,000 from former Gov. Booth Gardner; $250,000 from Stephen Clapp of Sequim; and $400,000 from M. Andrew Ross, a donor from Columbus, Ohio.

The Coalition Against Assisted Suicide has raised $1.5 million, slightly more than half from Catholic sources across the country.

Similar drives for legalizing assisted suicide have failed in 25 other states, but a funding disadvantage has had an effect on Washington's race, said Carlson.

"I think anybody that studies elections knows that usually the one with the most resources is certainly more advantaged. It doesn't guarantee victory, but it enhances the prospects," he said.

His campaign has argued that legalizing assisted suicide would put the poor, minorities and the depressed at risk for unnecessary suicides.

The national organization that backs the "Death with Dignity" law says it is a patient's right to choose when they die. And the campaign says they expected more of a fight in Washington.

"I think the public support is deep, and being next door to Oregon, I think the myth-making has been cut down," said Steve Hopcraft, spokesman for Compassion and Choices.

The national group has given $1 million to the I-1000 campaign. A victory in Washington could help efforts to pass similar laws in other states, particularly in the West, Hopcraft said.

Polls have shown the initiative consistently favored by voters, but neither side was predicting victory.