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10/23/97 Assisted suicide draws protest from retired cowboy, Baptists

NORTH BEND, Ore. (BP)–The huge sign on the corner of Gene Hines’ property declares, “16 Fatally Flawed — Yes on 51.”
Hines’ statement refers to an Oregon mail-in vote in October and November on Measure 51. A “Yes” vote repeals a law permitting assisted suicide, passed by voters as Measure 16 in 1995.
“I pulled cattle out of bog holes,” said Hines, of North Bend, Ore., who herded cattle in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico for 41 years. “I delivered calves that couldn’t be delivered, and I doctored sick cattle so they would live.
“The way I figure it, life is a gift,” said Hines, a Southern Baptist now almost 80 years, “and anytime you give away a gift, it’s an insult to the giver.
“I could not insult God,” he continued. “He’s my Savior. The Bible is my book every day and it says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ — period. Not ‘except in certain circumstances.’ What are you going to say to God — ‘I involved somebody in my murder my last day on earth?’ Somebody is going to have to answer.”
Hines’ 32-square-foot sign, anchored by three iron posts, echoes the sentiment conveyed by the much-smaller yellow placards that have sprung up like dandelions on lawns of homes and churches across Oregon in recent weeks.
“There was a lot of confusion on Measure 16 when it was voted on,” Northwest Baptist Convention missions ministries strategist Gary Floyd noted. “Since then, people have become educated that it has many flaws and loopholes.
“If you take Measure 16 to its extreme, people could use it to make the choice of assisted suicide for people who were being a financial hardship to them,” Floyd said. “Social workers and physicians sympathetic to the family could, without the approval of the patient, end the life of, say, a grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease — and it would be considered a good thing.”
The executive board of the Northwest Baptist Convention voted recently to formally endorse Measure 51, and a two-part informational mailing designed by the Yes on 51 Committee went out to all congregations in the regional convention.
One piece provided nine “talking points” to show how the 1995 Measure 16 is rife with legal loopholes and moral inadequacies; the other provided quotes from medical personnel and political leaders.
But several Oregon Southern Baptist pastors didn’t wait for the mailings. John Hobson of First Baptist, North Bend, and Mike Ruptak of Hall Boulevard Baptist, Tigard, are two of many who passed out literature along with Sunday morning bulletins.
“We have not promoted this opposition from the pulpit,” Hobson said. “As a pastor it’s all right for me to speak out on moral things, but political stands I try to keep separate. So I preach on what is wrong with taking life, and I pass out the literature.”
Members at Holgate Baptist in Portland have taken home about 25 “Yes on 51” banners, pastor Ray Pound said.
“I haven’t preached specifically on Measure 51, but whenever the subject fits in an illustration, I use it,” Pound said. “Assisted suicide is presented as a noble thing to do today and it’s not,” he stated. “It’s contrary to God’s Word. The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ which will include patricide, matricide, suicide, infanticide and any other ‘cide’ you can think of.”
There is no “Yes on 51” placard on Holgate’s lawn, Pound acknowledged with a grin. “There’s none left,” he said. “The church members took them all to put up in their yards.”
Assisted suicide is not such a hot issue in eastern Oregon, said John Ashcraft, pastor for the last six years at Pendleton (Ore.) Baptist Church. Measure 16 did not pass in that part of the state in 1995; Ashcraft expects the vote will be just as conservative in this go-around.
“The people here are strongly against assisted suicide,” Ashcraft said. “It’s not an issue. The western corridor is where the battle needs to be fought, as far as we’re concerned.”
The assisted suicide issue is an opportunity for Southern Baptists to say that life has value, Floyd said.
“The bottom line is respect for all people,” he said. “Being created in the image of God says that life has value and meaning. Our endorsement of Measure 51 says we have made an official stand for the value of human life.”