Mass. Rejects Physician-Assisted Suicide

Massachusetts voters narrowly (51%-49%) rejected a referendum question that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide. Opponents of Question 2 raised more money ($2.6 million v. $700,000), built a broader coalition and made persuasive arguments against physician-assisted suicide in general and (perhaps more importantly) this bill in particular:"Voters said they formed their opinions about the controversial ballot initiative after careful consideration, informed by personal experiences with family members and by concerns about the safeguards written into the law.North End resident Paul Santoro, 42, cast a vote against the initiative.Im actually in favor of assisted suicide, but not how this is written, Santoro said, citing concerns about the proposals lack of required psychiatric evaluations and family notification and the lack of tracking for any leftover pills.Santoro, who works in sales, said he has five children and worries about young people getting access to dangerous, untracked medications."

Santoro's views reflect the carefully considered strategy used by Committee Against Physician-Assisted Suicide to provide citizens with arguments that relied more on persuasion than exhortation, more on a careful reading of the proposed law than on rigid moral precepts.While Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and his brother bishops around the Commonwealth were active and vocal participants in the public debate about Question 2, and clearly articulated the Church's teachings on the issue, they avoided becoming the primary spokespersons for the "No on 2" campaign. In fact, they often used their voices to call attention to others who opposed Question 2: the disabled, doctors and other healthcare workers, hospice volunteers.My purely subjective and woefully limited sense is that this approach was both good politics and good episcopal leadership. Many Catholics I know---regardless of how they voted on the issue---appreciated Cardinal O'Malley's humble and respectful way of entering the public arena on this issue.I'd be interested to hear the perspectives not only of Massachusetts residents, but also of folks from around the country. Were there issues or races on the ballot in which your bishop intervened? How did he do it and what was the reaction? Are there, in your view, any lessons that apply more broadly?

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 

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