Eight Die in Oregon
Assisted Suicides
by Joseph B. Frazier
Associated Press Writer

August 18, 1998

Portland, Oregon (AP) -- Eight people have died after taking medications prescribed under Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, and all were dead within seven hours of taking the drugs, state health officials said today.

In the first official figures released by the state, the Oregon Health Division said two other people obtained the drugs but died from their illnesses.

"All 10 reports received by the division documented full compliance with the provisions of the act," said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, an epidemiologist with the division.

The assisted-suicide law, the only one in the nation, went into effect last November. State officials had said they would release a preliminary report as soon as they recorded 10 deaths.

"Only eight Oregonians in nearly 10 months have taken the medication to end their suffering, and all of them were older patients facing difficult deaths," said Barbara Coombs Lee, an Oregon nurse who was the chief petitioner for the Oregon law. She said the statistics show that opponents' fears the law would be abused were unfounded.

But Bob Castagna, executive director of the Oregon Catholic Conference, called the announcement of the deaths "a tragic development" and called for a national ban on assisted suicide.

The division said most of the deaths took place three or four months ago and the average age of the patient was 71. Cancer was the illness in nine cases and heart disease in the other.

The number of days between obtaining the drugs and taking them ranged from the same day to 16 days, with an average of two days. All died within seven hours of taking the drugs; the average time was 40 minutes.

Five were men and five were women, and five were from the Portland area.

The two who died of their illnesses did not take the drugs, health officials said.

The agency did not release identities, although the names of those believed to be the first four were released by families and in earlier news reports.

The state is required to protect the identity of those who choose suicide under the law.

"Release of more specific information at this time would jeopardize this guarantee of protection," Hedberg said.

Oregon passed the law in 1994 but it was tied up for years in court. Oregon voters reaffirmed the law in 1997 by soundly defeating a measure to repeal it.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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Here We Are,
Awaiting 'The End'
by Tommy Denton
senior editorial writer and columnist
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

January 1, 1996

As a new year dawns, the world finds itself straddling the final decade of the millennium, and with it a consideration of the end of things -- all of them.

Folks who otherwise should busy themselves with more productive matters have begun to contemplate the fascinating prospect of the Apocalypse, a contemplation that seems to coincide with the ordered passage of centuries in multiples of 1,000.

The current fading decade lies at the threshold of a rare thousand-year block of time, at least as time has been measured in the human era.

Even St. Augustine, who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries, tried to persuade the faithful to avoid a strictly literal interpretation of the scriptural references to Christ's millenial return and the accompanying end of the world.

Augustine's words fell on ears no less deaf than those of modern prophets of doom, from fundamentalist scriptural inerrantists to New Agers to the ecoapocalyptics who preach of environmental suicide.

At the passage from the first millennium A.D. in 999, the occasion was met with considerable anxiety and trepidation as the faithful -- and even those whose faith was undeveloped but who at the same time converted to Christianity in hopes of hedging their eternal bets -- fearfully awaited what was considered to be the prophetic end of the world.

When it didn't happen, they went on about their lives in more or less normal fashion, though the final decade of each subsequent century was filled with a raucous display of expectant anxiety and considerable repentance.

At any rate, measuring time is primarily a human, artificial construct. Various civilizations have counted history according to their own designs. In early Christian times, years were counted from the beginning of the world, or Anno Mundi, with Christ having been born in 5199 A.M.

Only with the millenial year of 6000 approaching did faithful Christians, meeting at the Synod of Whitby, agree to adopt the calendar of a fifth-century monk, Dionysius Exiguus, who began the year 1 on the day of Christ's circumcision, a week after his birth.

Perhaps a reason exists for the discrepancy of having Christ born before the year 1, but the monk apparently kept his reasons to himself. The important thing was that a millennium no longer threatened to disrupt the temporal order, and, with the stroke of a quill, the year was transformed into 800 Anno Domini -- a 200-year reprieve from Armageddon.

Despite the dismal and frustrating record of predictors of the end of things, a lot of otherwise learned people still attach great significance to the approaching millennium, as if thousand-year segments are endowed with some mystifying property. If anyone could determine when the meter began running, perhaps the calculation might have more meaning.

But whose calendar do we consult: Dionysius Exiguus? The Chinese? The Egyptians? As to the unit of measurement, Augustine himself emphasized the epistle of Paul (Peter): "With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."

Augustine seemed to hold that the Apocalypse was, in the final analysis, God's business, and God was really under no obligation to make unarguably clear to mere mortals his explanation of terminal events. Their only responsibility was to love him and each other, and otherwise behave themselves. He would take care of the details.

That was sufficient for Augustine, because he was a good and holy man.

But the present age, like those of the ancient Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians and Persians, seems intent on divining the portents of prophetic writings, or celestial alignments, or psychic tremors, or the glimmering of crystals -- anything that presents a glimpse of "The End."

In the great scheme of things, however, "The End" could very well be connected with the millennium. After all, Nostradamus, the 16th-century French seer, predicted that in July 1999, "From the sky shall come a great King of terror."

Old Testament prophecies anticipated that Armageddon would occur a generation after the re-establishment of a Jewish state. A traditional Buddhist teaching holds that the world will end about 2,500 years after the death of Buddha, who died about 2,500 years ago. Psychic pyramidologists who examined the galleries of the Pyramid of Cheops at Giza found that the world is to end about the year 2000 -- a conclusion supported by Aztec, Hindu and Hopi inscriptions -- and others around the world.

It's only human to be anxious about the end of time, whenever that is. But as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Let us, instead, take courage in pondering the earthy, timeless wisdom of another great thinker, Yogi Berra: "It ain't over til it's over."

© 1996 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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Pope Says Don't Try
To Predict End Of World

April, 1998

Vatican City (Reuters) -- Pope John Paul said Wednesday that the end of the world would certainly come someday but it was useless to try to predict when.

"Attempts to predict the end of the world are illusory and misleading," the Pope said during his weekly general audience.

In the past few years, the Pope has said several times that it was wrong to think that the new millennium in the year 2000 would be accompanied by the Last Judgment.

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Catholic Church
Rehearses Holy Year
by Frances D'emilio
Associated Press Writer

May 30, 1998

Rome (AP) -- Snarling traffic across the Italian capital, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims descended on St. Peters' Square Saturday in what was seen as a dress rehearsal for the huge crowds expected in 2000, the church's holy year.

Police said some 250,000 Catholics from around the world had reached the square by early evening for a religious vigil.

Pope John Paul II greeted the cheering throng as he glided aboard his "popemobile" along a passageway kept open by police.

But for ordinary Rome residents many streets were off-limits. And many found notices stuffed in their mailboxes urging them to stay home.

Traffic was barred from neighborhoods near the Vatican, and backups were reported along nearby roads. Cars on the beltway around the capital found the going slow.

About 2,000 chartered buses as well as specially reserved trains brought participants to the capital, where they jammed sidewalks, subways and city buses to reach the square.

At least 20 million extra tourists and pilgrims are expected throughout 2000 for celebrations marking the start of the church's third millennium.

Some observers were quick to predict disaster in 2000.

"Curfews in entire neighborhoods, buses which immobilized the Tiber-side road, appeals not to go out or to do so without cars are things which speak for themselves," said Giovanni Negri, a member of the group Lay Observer of the Jubilee. He said the group was considering going to court to protect citizens' rights to free movement.

Negri cited the case of a Roman who had to prove to police he lived near the Vatican in order to reach his home after going out to buy bread.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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Next Shroud of Turin
Display in 2000

May 29, 1998

Turin, Italy (AP) -- The Shroud of Turin, which has drawn more than 1.3 million visitors since April, will go on display again in the year 2000.

The 2000 display of the linen, which many believe had wrapped the body of Jesus after his crucifixion, is part of the Roman Catholic Church's celebration of Christianity's third millennium.

Two million people are expected to view the shroud before its current, two-month showing ends June 14. The cloth bears the faded image of a man and wounds similar to those suffered by Jesus.

Pope John Paul II was among those who came to Turin's cathedral. During his visit Sunday, he urged scientists to do more tests on the cloth.

Results of carbon-14 testing 10 years ago indicated the cloth dated to the 13th or 14th century, but some experts say contamination might have skewed the results.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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Pastor Hoards Water
for Year 2000
by David E. Kalish
AP Business Writer

August 18, 1998

Sure, it's just a software bug. But to some anxious folks, the Year 2000 computer problem may well be the next cataclysm of biblical proportions.

The Rev. Steve Wilkins isn't taking any chances. He recently bought a water purifier and a small mill to grind wheat into flour. Pare down debt, he advises his Presbyterian flock in Monroe, La. Maybe plant a vegetable garden.

David Tulis, 500 miles away in Chattanooga, Tenn., is stocking up on dehydrated food and reading about alternate power sources. From time to time, he drops by Wal-Mart for some extra ammunition.

''I try to do a little every day,'' explains Tulis, a newspaper copy editor.

Firearms for a computer flaw, a software glitch that confuses some computers into thinking 2000 is a century earlier?

Fearful folks scattered across the country are preparing for a man-made disaster they fear could make hurricanes seem like a summer breeze. They're sinking assets into gold, installing solar panels, packing pantries with powdered milk and canned goods.

Ammunition? Could be looting and riots.

Solar energy? Blackouts, too.

Gold? Downed computers may toss banks into a tizzy.

The super-cautious crowd may be overreacting, several Year 2000 experts say. Why board up the windows for a mere thunderstorm?

''There are people who are running off to the hills and buying Uzis. I think that's the lunatic fringe,'' says Peter de Jager, a well-known Year 2000 pundit who, nevertheless, warns of potentially catastrophic computer failures.

If people ''run away screaming into the night,'' de Jager says, ''then we have given up all hope.''

Better to be safe than sorry, a minority of others argue. Let business and government boast of the billions they're spending for pricey programmers, consultants and systems analysts to mend countless lines of computer code and make software ''Year 2000 compliant.''

That's just hype, in some minds.

More than 80 percent of large U.S. firms, in fact, are behind schedule in fixing their computer bugs by 2000, according to a survey by the Cap Gemini America consulting firm. Experts say the failure of computers to correctly read dates could trigger disruptions in commerce, finance, power supplies and other mainstays of civilization. Some fear the flaws could even perplex systems like control panels for nuclear warheads.

Mindful of their valued disaster-relief roles, some religious groups preach extra caution, urging churches to invest in electric generators and install temporary living quarters for those caught without heat in winter.

The Presbyterian church in Monroe taped a 90-minute survival video urging people to stow emergency medicine and buy hand tools that don't run on electricity. About 200 people have bought the $10 primer.

The Southern Baptist denomination goes further, seeing the Year 2000 problem as a recruiting tool to help add to its nearly 16 million members. The potential for computer woes offers ''historic evangelism opportunities,'' says a recent article in the Baptist Press, the denomination's news service.

''Whenever there have been significant societal events, such as the Mississippi River flooding or Hurricane Andrew, Southern Baptists have been there to minister,'' says Art Toalston, editor at the Baptist Press.

To drive home his point, he cites the New Testament, Luke 4:18:

''Jesus says, 'The spirit of the Lord is upon him ... to preach gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted.'''

So let computers crash, cityscapes darken, financial markets evaporate. They'll be ready.

Hundreds of customers helped boost sales 40 percent this year at Emergency Essentials Inc., a small Utah maker of emergency supplies packed in gallon-size cans that don't rust.

Kevin Rogers, a repair shop owner, says he wants to build a shed in his Chattanooga backyard to stow up to three months' supply of transmission parts worth $75,000.

People like him will be ready for the high-tech Big One.

The worriers stand out in a society numbed by disasters; many people are only vaguely aware a global computer bug could gum up the societal works. But among other folks, the world's crazy mesh of phone, cable and power lines has spurred anxiety; electronics control so much of life, from bedside alarm clocks to the New York Stock Exchange.

''I spoke to my father the other night,'' Rogers says from his Tennessee transmission shop. ''He's cashing out all of his mutual funds this year, and taking the penalties and paying the taxes.''

''I think the odds of there being a crisis is 100 percent,'' he says. ''The odds of it being serious is impossible to predict.''

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Georgia Sect Alarms Neighbors
by Patricia J. Mays
Associated Press Writer

July 27, 1999

Eatonton, Georgia. (AP) -- A sect founded by an ex-convict has built two 40-foot pyramids and a giant sphinx amid the pines and red clay of middle Georgia, alarming some with its armed guards and prophecies of deliverance by spaceships from another galaxy.

The sheriff and the sect had an armed confrontation in April when he tried to escort a building inspector onto the property, and tensions are running so high that mediators from the U.S. Justice Department were called in earlier this summer.

The members call themselves the Yamassee Native American Nuwaubians and claim to have created a utopian society on their 476-acre compound of Egyptian-style architecture.

Many people in and around Eatonton -- a rural community that was the birthplace of Alice Walker, author of "The Color Purple," and Joel Chandler Harris, creator of the Uncle Remus tales -- fear the Nuwaubians are similar to Heaven's Gate, the cult whose 39 members committed mass suicide in 1997 in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and the People's Temple followers of Jim Jones.

"This group here has a combination of all those schools of thought," Sheriff Howard Sills said.

About 100 Nuwaubians live in trailers on the compound. An additional 300 to 400 reside elsewhere in Putnam County. The Nuwaubians, most of whom are black, claim to be descended from the Egyptians and the Yamassees, a tribe of Indians indigenous to this part of Georgia.

Past the armed guards at the compound's entryway, Nile River Road stretches between two rows of statues of Egyptian royalty. A gold pyramid serves as a mini-mall, with a bookstore and clothing store. A labyrinth leads to the black pyramid, which serves as a church. Inside, an Egyptian-like chant hums over speakers 24 hours a day.

The group's lodge houses busts of King Tut and Queen Nefertiti and a glass tomb holding an alien-like creature with a huge head and bulging eyes.

Members say they pay no dues and are free to come and go. And they insist that suicide is not in their plans.

The group's founder, Dwight York, who calls himself Malachi Z. York, served time in New York in the 1960s for assault, resisting arrest and possession of a dangerous weapon.

York has claimed to be from a galaxy called Illyuwn and has said that in 2003 spaceships are going to descend from the sky and pick up a chosen 144,000 people for a rebirth. Most recently, York has referred to himself as Chief Black Eagle, a reincarnated leader of the Yamassee Indians.

"It's a constantly opportunistic evolving ideology," the sheriff said. "We've gone from an extraterrestrial to a Christian pastor to an Indian leader with willful and wanton resistance to legal authority time and time again."

The group's spokeswoman, Renee McDade, and Marshall Chance, who is referred to as the Nuwaubians' leader, distance themselves from the space prophecies of York, who lives on the compound and refuses to give interviews.

"We're all awaiting the coming of the real Messiah," Chance said. "We are a biblical people. If it's not in the Bible, then we're not concerned about it."

The group moved to Georgia in 1993 from New York, where it had operated under other names, including the Ansaru Allah Community. A 1993 FBI report linked that group to a myriad of crimes, including arson and extortion.

Until recently, the Nuwaubians pretty much kept to themselves. Then last year, the county rejected a request to have the property rezoned from agricultural to commercial. Since then, the Nuwaubians have been at odds with county officials.

Shortly after the building inspector was denied access, the sheriff and his deputies tried to enter.

"The armed guards literally stood in front of my car," Sills said. "It was obvious to me that this was provocative and they wanted to provoke some sort of armed confrontation, so I decided to leave."

When the sheriff returned two months later, "we were served with this cockamamie lawsuit that said we'd be fined $5 million if we went onto the property," Sills said.

The Nuwaubians said they have met all the permit requirements. "We feel they're trying to impede us from our progress here. It feels like they're trying to put us out of our land," Chance said.

Mediators from the Justice Department's Community Dispute Resolution unit were asked to get involved after the Nuwaubians leveled charges of racism against officials in Putnam County, which has about 17,000 people, more than one-third of them black.

"The Nuwaubians felt they were being harassed, the county officials said they were being harassed," mediator Ernie Stallworth said. "Everyone was pointing a finger and that has lessened, but I still believe we have work to do."

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