In an astounding show of common sense, the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the Oregon Death With Dignity law 6-3. Not many people have had the chance to observe the Oregon law at work, mainly because not many people in Oregon have used the law, only 198 since the law went into effect in 1998, after the voters approved it for the second time in a ballot initiative.
The Christian lobby opposed the law at the time, the Catholic Church being the largest contributor of money to attempt to defeat the law. The pseudo-Christian lobby (a.k.a. Bush administration), pandering to its base of radical right-wing fundamentalists tried several methods of thwarting the will of the Oregon voters.
One of the first was the ridiculously named Pain Relief Promotion Act, pushed by the Christian radicals. It was deftly defeated by Sen. Ron Wyden (D. Oregon) and others by threatening a filibuster and killing the measure after the Republicans could not muster the sixty votes for cloture.
Then came the misnamed "Ashcroft challenge" to the Oregon law, misnamed because it was really a Bush (or Rove) initiative. The challenge was ridiculed in Federal Court in Oregon, where a Justice Department attorney sent to argue the case mispronounced the name "Oregon" several times in his appearance, drawing laughter in the courtroom and a scolding from the judge. The challenge was strongly rebuked and Ashcroft had his butt kicked by the judge's subsequent opinion.
The Ninth Circuit Court similarly dismissed the Bush-Rove challenge to the law, and now the Supreme Court has finished the job.
Co-Director Greg Bond and I spent two years shooting a documentary on Robert Schwartz, an AIDS patient, beginning the day before he got the lethal dose of drugs, prescribed legally under the Oregon law and ending the afternoon he took them, surrounded by his family and friends. Robert died wearing our microphone.
That documentary, "Robert's Story: Dying With Dignity" is currently in the marketing phase.
So, this morning, after just having read the news that the people of Oregon have won a great victory in the battle for self-determination, all I can see is Robert's smiling face. Not the pain and suffering he underwent fighting to keep enough quality of life to stay alive and not have to use the drugs. Not the anger he expressed at the Bush administration who wanted to take the ultimate choice away from other like him. Not even the acceptance and peace of his final decision to end his life.
I see a big smile on Robert's face.
I remember what he told us on the morning of his death:
"I'm absolutely grateful for the fact that I have this choice and that I can have my family surrounding me today as I get ready to do this, and nobody is risking criminal sanctions because of it.
"You know, Oregon has always been known as a rebel state, an innovative state when it comes to personal issues, particularly. My belief is that given the opportunity, I think this will pass in most other states, if it ever gets allowed to be voted on.
"I think that as people become more aware over time, and become even more sensitized to the fact that we're losing our rights to zealots. I think that'll fuel the eventual passage in the other states."
Later, Robert took communion with those gathered at his house, said his goodbyes, had an anointing service at his bedside, drank a glass of liquid Nembutal, rubbed the head of his partner one last time, closed his eyes and left us...unaware that this morning would come and the right of self-determination would be upheld.
We're all a little more comfortable with our destiny in Oregon today.