By Kent Larsen
LDS Senator Criticized for Assisted Suicide Position
PORTLAND, OREGON -- Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury thinks he
has the perfect issue for his campaign to unseat U.S. Senator Gordon
Smith, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
and is finding unintended help in the effort from an unlikely source
-- the Bush administration, with whom Smith agrees on the issue.
After U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft last week changed Justice
department policy to stop assisted suicide, which is legal in Oregon
after a referrendum twice approved by Oregon voters, Bradbury
criticized Smith's anti-assisted-suicide stance, "It's really a
tragedy to have Oregoniansí will and expressed desire
get the bureaucratic backhand from the Bush administration," Bradbury
said. "I really think it's sad that our junior senator, who could
affect this, who has the greatest 'in' with the Bush administration,
is basically turning the other way."
The issue of assisted suicide hasn't been an easy one for Smith, who
is caught in a classic political battle between the will of his
constituents and his conscience. Oregon first considered permitting
assisted suicide in 1994, when voters approved a referendum by 51% to
49% allowing doctors to assist terminally ill patients end their
After legal challenges that went to the U.S. Supreme Court failed,
Voters considered overturning the measure in 1997, but that attempt
failed, with only 40% voting to overturn assisted suicide vs. 60%.
choosing to keep the law. The LDS Church campaigned heavily against
assisted suicide in both referenda. Since the law went into effect in
October 1997, at least 70 people have used the law to commit suicide.
Opponents of the law also tried to overturn it by passing a federal
law that would keep physicians from using federally-approved drugs
for assisted suicide, but that attempt died in the Senate, in spite
of testimony by Sen. Smith in support of the measure. Smith explained
that he felt caught between conscience and his responsibility to the
voters, "I'm caught in the cross-hairs between the majority and my
conscience," Smith said in his testimony. "I find it very
uncomfortable, but I also find that to be responsible to the people
who elected me, I should be clear on where I am."
But Oregon's law also conflicted with U.S. law, depending on how the
U.S. Attorney General chose to enforce the law, and with the election
of the Bush administration, opponents of the law hoped that U.S.
policy would stop the practice. Last week Attorney General Ashcroft
took that action, effectively overruling the voters of Oregon.
Now, Bradbury sees a chance to put Smith on the defensive, making his
stand on Assisted Suicide an issue in the campaign. He claimed that
Smith is obligated to support the voters of Oregon, not his
conscience, "I don't get to decide the law based on my conscience,"
But political analysts aren't clear about what effect this issue
could have on the next Senatorial election, scheduled for November
2002. Portland political analyst James Moore, says the issue brings
back an issue Smith's staff hoped was over, "I know that the Smith
people over the past several years have really wished this issue
would go away. This puts it back on the front burner."
But Republican consultant Chuck Adams doubts that the issue will be
important over the next year, "I don't think it has much of an
impact, because both of them have, over time, clearly articulated
their positions," Adams said, thinking that those that would vote
against Smith over the issue are already against him. He adds that
the most recent referendum in favor of assisted suicide was
artificially inflated, because Oregonians resented lawmakers for
putting the matter back on the ballot after voters approved it the
first time in 1994.
But what will happen from here is also not clear. Court challenges to
Ashcroft's decision could tie up the issue until after the election,
making it a non-issue, or supporters could put a third referendum on
the ballot for next November, making the issue larger just as Smith
faces the election. "I think it's going to come down to how everybody
handles this issue," Adams said.
But regardless of the outcome, Smith says he is comfortable with his
position, "In my public life there are principles that are beyond
politics, and this was one of those. I am at peace and prepared to
accept the judgment of the voters of Oregon," Smith said in response
to Bradbury's criticism.
Bradbury makes assisted suicide key campaign issue
Salem OR Statesman Journal 7Nov01 T2
By Steve Law: Statesman Journal
Ashcroft's decision is advantageous for Oregon's state secretary in his run to unseat Sen. Smith, who opposes the popular law.
Bradbury Criticizes Smith on Assisted-Suicide
Portland OR KGW TV8 (AP) 6Nov01 T2
By AP Staff
Bill To Overturn Oregon Assisted Suicide Law Approaches Vote
Smith Defends Suicide Vote
Smith Backs Anti-Suicide Bill
LDS Senator Faces Dilemna Over Physician Assisted-Suicide