Assisted suicide defeated in Massachusetts

Massachusetts voters rejected assisted suicide in a ballot measure during the Nov. 6 American elections. It was defeated by a slim margin of 51 to 49 per cent. Earlier in the campaign, a September poll sponsored by the Boston Globe and conducted by the University of New Hampshire showed that 68 per cent of voters were in favour of legalization and only 19 per cent were opposed. “The turnaround on this campaign was remarkable,” said Tim Rosales, campaign strategist for No On 2 to PRNewswire.  “Generally, when you see support for a ballot question in the high sixties it should be a slam dunk.”

The text for Ballot Question 2 stated that the “proposed law would allow a physician licensed in Massachusetts to prescribe medication, at a terminally ill patient’s request, to end that patient’s life.” The patient must be an adult who is “mentally capable of making and communicating health care decision,” has “an incurable irreversible disease that will … cause death within six months, and has ‘voluntarily’ made an “informed” decision to die. The patient must request the lethal prescription two times, 15 days apart, from a physician.

Critics pointed out that the law does not require a psychiatric evaluation or consultation for palliative care for individuals requesting assisted suicide. Moreover, experts noted, six-month life expectancy estimates by doctors often turn out to be wrong.

Wesley Smith identified five reasons why the assisted suicide measure was defeated in an article for the National Review Online published on November 7. First of all, there was a “diverse” opposition to assisted suicide spanning Catholics, disability rights activists, medical professional organizations, egalitarian liberals, pro-lifers, and poverty advocates. Also, assisted suicide is not an important issue to the public and Massachusetts’ “strong Catholic identity” helped to work against the measure. Assisted suicide gets a lot of support in polls because respondents tend to support it “as a general concept” rather than as actual legislation. Finally, Victoria Kennedy, the widow of Ted Kennedy, wrote an opinion piece against Question 2, swaying liberal voters.

Amy Hasbrouck, a disability rights activist and chair of Not Dead Yet, told the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition national convention in London, Ont., Nov. 17, that the coalition Smith described worked well together, but put disability activists at the forefront to deliver the anti-euthanasia message to the public.

Smith concludes that “Assisted suicide finds tough slogging because there remains sufficient traditional morality in the country – and the usual liberal coalition is fractured on this question – allowing those who bat from the left side of the plate to oppose a specific proposal, while still supporting the concept.”

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