Opponents of physician-assisted suicide overcome 49 point deficit to defeat Ballot Question 2

By Anne Fox, President,
Massachusetts Citizens for Life

Voters in Massachusetts defeated the so-called “Death with dignity” ballot initiative by 51% to 49% on Tuesday, going against the liberal voting patterns that day. As recently as September, passage seemed absolutely certain.

The proposal had been put on the ballot by Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society). It would have allowed doctors to prescribe a lethal overdose to patients who had six months or less to live. When the measure was approved for the ballot in the fall of 2011, a diverse coalition of disability rights organizations, medical associations, nurses’ groups, community leaders, right to life groups, and faith-based organizations came together to fight the question.

A late September, 2012, poll sponsored by the Boston Globe and conducted by the University of New Hampshire showed 68% of Massachusetts voters in favor with just 19% opposed. As recently as last week, polls were showing 47% in favor and 37%-42% opposed.

“The turnaround on this campaign was remarkable,” said Tim Rosales, campaign strategist for Massachusetts Against Doctor Prescribed Suicide: No On 2. “Generally, when you see support for a ballot question in the high sixties it should be a slam dunk. We knew from the beginning this would be an uphill battle and that to be successful we had to stay disciplined in our message, highlighting the ballot question’s significant problems and effectively communicate those to voters across Massachusetts. This campaign certainly exceeded a lot of expectations,”

“No On 2” is made up of hospice workers, disability rights activists, nurse, and doctors across the state.

In Massachusetts, an initiative petition can be out on the ballot by obtaining signatures. The legislature can decide to deal with the issue. The Massachusetts legislature decided not to vote on the petition. As time went on, many individual legislators came out publically opposed to the petition. The major newspapers in the state editorialized against the petition.

The main concerns argued by opponents were that the petition was poorly written and flawed. The prognosis of six months is often inaccurate, no doctor or other witness was required to be present at the time of death, the doctor was required to fill out the death certificate with the “underlying cause of death,” no psychological evaluation was required even though most people contemplating suicide are depressed.

“Tonight was a huge victory for those of us in the disability rights community who have worked for so long against assisted suicide,” noted John Kelly, Director of Second Thoughts – People with Disabilities Opposing Question 2. Robin Loughman, RN, Chairman of No On 2 thanked all the people who helped to educate their fellow citizens, noting that people tend to favor doctor prescribed suicide until they are educated on the issue.

“This vote confirms that Massachusetts voters saw through the rhetoric and outright misinformation put out by those supporting assisted suicide,” Rosales said. “Opposition to assisted suicide cuts across all partisan and ideological groups because the more people learn about the issue, the more they have second thoughts. Assisted suicide doesn’t expand choice, it limits choice – and that puts at risk anyone living with a disability, mental illness or serious illness.”