As one way of trimming the continually rising federal deficit, negotiators from both parties are currently considering proposals to curb itemized tax deductions - including those for charitable giving. That's an idea that should be stifled at once.

No decision has been made yet, but if the charitable deduction were eliminated, it would reverse a federal policy dating back to 1917.It is vital that such a change not be made. From 1982 to 1990, cuts in federal spending for human services - not counting Medicare and Medicaid - totaled $120 billion. Heaviest hit by such cuts were education and training programs, family and child agencies, food and shelter for the homeless, and drug abuse counseling. These types of programs alone lost $82 billion in federal support.

As these expenditures were reduced, the expectation was that essential services would be picked up by voluntary organizations and local government.

It hardly makes sense to slash government social programs and at the same time penalize giving to charity. The needy and unfortunate would be caught in the middle.

Since charitable donations are such a valuable way for individuals to serve others as well as supplement government programs, nothing should ever be done that would limit those contributions.

Moreover, the charitable deduction is an efficient way for government to encourage voluntary contributions for public purposes.

It permits the exercise of a full range of individual choices by the taxpayer as to which public purposes to support. That makes it different from any other tax deduction and closer to being a voluntary tax.

Contributions made to charity do not represent any advantage to the giver, yet they subtract from what the giver could spend on other things. These are not dollars consumed or saved; they are given to others.

Once charitable deductions are taxed, the amount of that tax is certain to steadily increase until charities in this country are devastated.

In 1986, charitable deductions were eliminated for those who do not itemize their tax returns. This resulted in a 50 percent decline in the prior rate of growth of charitable support.

Clearly, limiting deductions does more than sock it to affluent contributors. It undermines all the causes and people served by organizations for which such gifts would be reduced.

A broad range of services are hurt by a decrease in charitable support - including protection for the environment, health research, food programs for the homeless, schools and colleges, refugee crisis counseling, youth services, civil rights, hospitals, community and international development, the arts, housing for senior citizens, and the myriad of activities in the public interest that enrich our society and protect its people.

Consider just one example - health research. The American Cancer Society, the Heart Association and a host of other non-profit organizations support important medical research that plays a major role in saving lives and improving medical care. Such groups could be crippled if public contributions were discouraged.

Charitable deductions must be preserved - both for the long-term health of society and for the basic good of humanity.