OMC to reconsider suicide decision

Olympic Medical Center commissioners have promised to reconsider their earlier decision to withhold OMC facilities from Death with Dignity discussions.

Commission President Jim Leskinovitch made the pledge after 17 of 26 residents who addressed the board May 20 asked them to allow their employees to participate in assisted suicides.

Leskinovitch did not set a date for when commissioners would discuss the issue again but promised that interested parties would be notified.

The board had voted 4-2 on March 9 to "opt out" of the act that voters passed last November as Initiative 1000 - by 60 percent statewide and 61 percent in Clallam County.

That approval rate is "considered a landslide in election results," Penny Van Vleet of Sequim told the commissioners.

She is president of the Clallam County League of Women Voters.

Death with Dignity could become an issue in the Nov. 3 election in which five OMC commissioners' seats will be on the ballot.

They include Leskinovitch, who announced before last week's meeting that he would seek re-election. He also said he voted for Initiative 1000, although last March he voted against OMC's participation in assisted suicides. Voting with him were commissioners Arlene Engel, Jim Cammack and Jean Hordyk.

Voting for Death with Dignity were commissioners John Beitzel and Gary Smith.

Smith has resigned effective May 31. He has been at a temporary job outside the U.S. and on an excused absence from OMC since March 1, but will not return before June and so resigned with regrets.

Also facing a campaign if they choose to run again, are Engel, Cammack and the newly appointed John Nutter, who has not expressed an opinion on the issue.

Nutter took office May 7, replacing Cindy Witham. She was absent from the March 9 meeting.

Last Wednesday, Van Vleet read a League of Women Voters statement seeking the reconsideration.

"By ignoring the will of the majority of Clallam County voters, the board discourages participation in the democratic process and shows disdain for the majority of voters," the statement said.

"You have also placed an onerous burden on patients in a life-and-death crisis - physically, mentally and emotionally. You are forcing them to find and establish another doctor/patient relationship at this extremely difficult time in their life ...."

But nine speakers went to the microphone to thank commissioners for opting out of Death with Dignity, which Robert Larson of Port Angeles said bore "a false name," suggesting that it be called "death as a coward."

He was the only speaker to be booed by the audience.

"(True) death with dignity is somebody dying under God's hand," he added.

People opposing hospital participation in Initiative 1000 included Rose Crumb, who for 30 years has run Clallam County's volunteer hospice, which "has never endorsed assisted suicide."

The weight of opinion at the meeting, however, was a 2-1 reversal of sentiments from March 9, when attendees overwhelmingly urged commissioners not to join in Death with Dignity procedures.

Also speaking to the issue May 20 were Sequim residents Donna Zullo, Judith Parker, Joseph Doyle, Carrol Hull, Nelson Cone, Milton Patrie and Darlene Schanfeld.

All urged commissioners to approve participation in Death with Dignity.

In other action May 20, OMC commissioners voted to proceed with buying and installing digital mammography equipment.

They did so with a $375,000 donation from First Federal, the largest-ever contribution, according to OMC Foundation Director Bruce Skinner.

Ten percent of the donation will be set aside to provide mammographies for indigent and uninsured patients.

First Federal spokeswoman Kendra Waggoner addressed commissioners, asking, "How can you argue with saving lives?"

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