The diverse coalition that defeated “Ballot Question 2” in Massachusetts

By Dave Andrusko

Joe Baerlein

On a rocky night, a good piece of news November 6 was the defeat of the physician-assisted suicide initiative—“Ballot Question 2”—in Massachusetts. We know that advocates will never give up, and neither will opponents.

Although NRL News Today has discussed the 51% to 49% defeat on several occasions, there is still much to be learned. We could learn a lot from a piece that ran in the Washington Times written by Valerie Richardson. Here are a few:

#1. You don’t move from being behind 68% to 20% (as one poll had it) if you panic. Richardson quoted extensively from Joe Baerlein, who helped run the campaign against Question 2. “Truthfully, my colleagues and I looked at this and thought we had an insurmountable task ahead of us,” said Mr. Baerlein. “We mounted a campaign where even if you have these beliefs [that “individuals should make their own end-of-life decisions”], you don’t like the way it would be handled under Question 2.”

#2. “The turnaround came after the ‘No on 2’ camp fractured the liberal coalition that approved similar measures in Oregon and Washington by building a diverse campaign of religious leaders, medical professionals and advocates for the disabled along with a few prominent Democrats and a member of the Kennedy clan,” Richardson wrote. The Kennedy reference is to the widow of Senator Ted Kennedy, who voiced her opposition. Another way of saying this is that it brought light to what is too often a blind, automatic obedience to a “progressive” cause.

#3. The coalition against Question 2 simply pointed out, without exaggeration, the deep flaws in the proposal—including “No psychiatrist was required to screen patients for depression,” Richardson wrote. “There was no family-notification provision, and patients would fill their prescriptions at local pharmacies, leading to worries about unused pills falling into the wrong hands.”

It would be hard to exaggerate how much voters did not like the fact that “The doctor wasn’t required to be present at the death,” as Baerlein said. “And people were shocked that the prescription would be filled at local pharmacies. One guy in our focus group said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me — I’m there in line to get Sudafed, and there’s someone ahead of me getting poison pills?’”

#4. In this case the blessing was in the details. “The key was convincing voters to think about the details,” Richardson wrote. “Question 2 would have allowed terminally ill patients to commit suicide at home using doctor-prescribed drugs after first having two doctors sign off on the prescription.”

Finally, it’s true in one sense but very misleading in another to conclude, as Richardson does, “the physician-assisted suicide movement has stalled in New England.” True, proponents have suffered setbacks in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, but they will come back again. They are every bit as persistent as opponents and, in most cases, vastly better funded. (“Ballot 2” was an exception; opponents had sufficient resources.)

But having said that, victory was sweet in Massachusetts, not only because it safeguards vulnerable populations but also because the opposition brought together a broad coalition that include the local medical association, hospice organizations, much of the religious community, and the disability rights movement.

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