Massachusetts Voters Reject Physician-Assisted Suicide Initiative

The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts’ Question 2 — the so-called “Death With Dignity” initiative that would have permitted terminally-ill patients to request physician-assisted suicide medications — was narrowly rejected by a 51–49 margin.

Question 2 would have allowed Americans with six months left to live to request medication to end their lives, after making their request multiple times and being deemed mentally competent to make the decision. Advocates portrayed it as a means of relief and dignity for ailing Americans. But the proposition’s opponents launched a fierce fundraising campaign against the measure, eventually chipping away at its public support:

The ballot question has been the subject of a ferocious political battle. After a Boston Globe poll in September showed voters overwhelmingly supported the measure, support steadily eroded in the face of a last-minute effort by a diverse group of opponents, including religious leaders, anti-abortion activists, and conservatives who aired their message in aggressive television advertisements and at church services. The concerted opposition campaign, which also included a major physician’s group, raised more than three times as much money as proponents. […]

Massachusetts would have followed Oregon and Washington, which have passed similar initiatives to allow terminally ill patients to seek life-ending drugs from physicians. Donations to opposition groups, which raised nearly $2.6 million, came from far-flung Catholic dioceses, fueled in part by fear of a domino effect if the measure were to gain a foothold in Massachusetts.


Proponents of the measure raised about $700,000.

Question 2 was closely modeled after similar legislation in Oregon, where records show that a fairly small number of patients request fatal doses of medication and even fewer numbers choose to use them, suggesting that the legislation is not being abused there. But the measure’s critics worried that the language of Massachusett’s ballot initiative was poorly constructed and ethically at odds with the medical profession. Although advocates for the terminally-ill see physician-assisted suicide as a personal choice and fundamental right — and often a way of ensuring patients don’t have to resort to desperate tactics — the issue remains contentious across party coalitions.