Michigan: Coalition Airs Ads Promoting Assisted Suicide Alternatives

LANSING, Mich. Nov. 1998 -- The coalition whose television ads were credited with a resounding defeat for the assisted suicide ballot initiative started running a new statewide TV ad last Friday. This time, they have shifted gears to focus on alternatives to assisted suicide for terminally ill people, such as hospice care.

Kevin Kelly, managing director of the Michigan State Medical Society, said the group's new theme is physician-assisted living.

"Many of us have read `Tuesdays With Morrie,' a book about the end of life by Mitch Albom. `Tuesdays With Morrie,' gives the point of view that physician assisted living can be wonderful," Kelly said. "That scenario could take place every day for people in Michigan."

The ads feature people of all walks of life, but focus mostly on the elderly and young children. It's a 60-second ad, twice as long as those urging defeat of Proposal B, and includes a Web site people can access for more information on alternatives to assisted suicide.

The ads were paid for by Citizens for Compassionate Care. The group of churches, doctors and disabled rights advocates raised $5 million to defeat Proposal B, which would have allowed physician-assisted suicide. Voters defeated the proposal 71 percent to 29 percent.

The coalition believes people wouldn't give a thought to assisted suicide if they had more information about hospice care, living wills, pain management and other ways of dealing with terminal illness.

"All of which leaves us looking to our future," the ad says. "A future that, because of what we the voters did, will bring about more compassionate care for everyone."

Gary Pokorny, president of the Grand Rapids-based Hanon McKendry firm that produced the television ads, said the ads would run in all state television markets through Thursday at a cost of $200,000. "We should be thinking about killing the pain, not the patient," Pokorny said.

In addition to money being spent by the group, the Michigan state goverment is helping to expand education on options for the terminally ill. Jim Haveman, director of the Michigan Department of Community Health, said the state will spend $150,000 next year to train medical professionals in end-of-life care. The state also will help promote the 117 hospice care programs in Michigan, he said.

That's part of the $750,000 Michigan Circle of Life program, whose mission is to reduce suicide rates of those with terminal or chronic illnesses, he said. The program provides information about the state Dignified Death Act, the Patient Bill of Rights, durable power of attorney for health care, and other options.

Kelly said the failure of Proposal B means that people yearn for an alternative to assisted suicide. "This has been a big boost for people who provide end-of-life care," Kelly said.

The Citizens for Compassionate Care Web site is at http://ccc.infobase.org; the Michigan Circle of Life resource guide can be obtained by calling (877) 224-2727.

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