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GALLAID

Ruth Gallaid from Eugene, Or., who supports physician assisted suicide, protests in front of the Supreme Court Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005, in Washington. South Dakotans may soon engage in a discussion about assisted suicide.

You probably know that assisted suicide is not legal in South Dakota. But maybe you didn't know that signatures are being collected for a proposed statewide ballot initiative in 2018 that would make medically assisted suicide legal in some cases.

It would take 13,871 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, and a majority of voters would then need to support the initiative before it would take effect.

Supporters, led by a woman from Spearfish, say it would allow some terminally ill people to die with dignity.

As offered, the initiative would require two doctors to agree that a patient would die within six months, and a state-licensed psychiatrist or psychologist would need to find a person competent to make the decision, and then a pharmacist could administer the patient a drug that would end his or her life.

But backers of assisted suicide should not count on members of the South Dakota Senate to sign a petition or vote yes in 2018.

That was made clear this session when state senators voted 67-1 in favor of Senate Concurrent Resolution 11 to make it known the Senate does not support assisted suicide.

That resolution makes several arguments against assisted suicide, which is legal in some form in five states. Among the arguments: That a right to assisted suicide is not in the U.S. or state constitutions; that palliative care has improved greatly to relieve pain and allow people to die naturally in a dignified manner; that assisted suicide is less expensive than traditional end-of-life care, possibly creating an incentive for doctors to approve it; that there is too much judgment placed in the hands of doctors who can decide whether someone's life is worth living; and that nothing less than a full prohibition can prevent abuses of the power to take a life.

As we have seen, even if South Dakota voters were to approve such an initiative, we could expect that lawmakers will do their darnedest to make the voters' ideologies match their own, not unlike what they did with Initiated Measure 22 and the minimum wage for teen workers.

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