By Dennis Sadowski Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Massachusetts voters narrowly defeated a “death with dignity” measure, rejecting attempts to legalize assisted suicide.
In California, an initiative to end the use of the death penalty was defeated as well in another close vote.
The Massachusetts initiative, known as Question 2, was defeated by fewer than 39,000 votes — 1,395,227 to 1,356,899 — with the largest opposition rising in counties in the center of the state and those north and south of Boston.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston was pleased with the outcome, saying the common good was served in the measure’s defeat.
“The campaign against physician-assisted suicide brought together a diverse coalition from medical, disability rights and interfaith communities, all dedicated to ensuring that our residents were well informed on the issue,” he said in an emailed statement.
The cardinal called upon wider society to work with hospice organizations and palliative care providers “to improve the care provided to the terminally ill.”
“It is my hope and prayer that the defeat of Question 2 will help all people to understand that for our brothers and sisters confronted with terminal illness we can do better than offering them the means to end their lives.”
The measure may have generated the widest debate of any statewide ballot issue in the country. The initiative would have allowed terminally ill adults to commit physician-assisted suicide under certain conditions.
The Massachusetts Catholic Conference, Massachusetts Medical Society and disability rights groups opposed it.
Under the proposal, patients estimated to have six months or fewer to live and judged medically capable to make a medical decision could decide to end their lives after submitting such a request twice orally and once in writing.
In video and written messages on the Massachusetts Catholic Conference website, Cardinal O’Malley urged voters to reject the measure, saying it would place vulnerable people at risk and that it promotes suicide.
Catholics and right-to-life leaders argued against the measure and also pointed to what they considered to be several flaws in its wording. In particular, the church raised concerns that the measure did not require that a doctor be present when a terminally ill individual administers a deadly dose of drugs once the medication is prescribed and that there was no requirement for an individual to notify family members of his or her intent.
In opposing the initiative, the Massachusetts Medical Society maintained that “physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer” and that “the proposed safeguards against abuse are insufficient.”