The following article was written by Wesley Smith and published on the National Review Online on November 7, 2012 under the title: Why assisted suicide lost in Massachusetts. Wesley has made another important contribution to the public debate on assisted suicide.
I made the following comments on the defeat of assisted suicide in Massachusetts.
Wesley Smith, National Review Online, November 7, 2012
Massachusetts voters have held the culture of death at bay for at least a little while longer in the USA, depriving backers of assisted suicide with an Eastern Front from which to spread the poison. It’s a good result that I don’t think could be duplicated in Europe. Much can be learned:
- Disability rights activists who see themselves and the elderly–rightly–as the targets of the movement;
- Medical professional organizations are overwhelmingly opposed to legalizing assisted suicide.
- Egalitarian liberals, such as Robert P. Jones, believe that assisted suicide threatens equality.
- Pro-lifers offer a solid foundation of opposition from which to build a winning coalition.
- Advocates for the poor who understand that assisted suicide could easily become a form of medical cost containment;
3. Polls showing strong support are misleading: I have noticed a continuing pattern: The default setting for large majorities is to support assisted suicide as a general concept, particularly as most poll questions are usually worded something along the line of a false premise, e.g., “only for the terminally ill for whom nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering, with strong protective guidelines.” But when people are actually forced to ponder a real proposal, support for legalization falls like a crowbar thrown from a bridge. Sometimes, not sufficiently to be defeated, but last night support collapsed just enough in MA to allow victory for Hippocratic values.
4. Massachusetts is a Catholic State: MA is a very liberal state, but it also retains a strong Catholic identity. The vigorous opposition to Question 2 by Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley made enough of a difference to hold the line.
Bottom line: 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. So long as that status quo remains, assisted suicide’s march will be long and slow.
Look for the movement to push harder in courts now that they have lost an important election. But that’s a post for another day.