Coali­tion-build­ing was key in anti-eu­thana­sia cam­paign

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The anti-eu­thana­sia move­ment found new life Nov. 6 af­ter vot­ers in Mas­sachusetts de­fied the con­ven­tional wis­dom by re­ject­ing a physi­cian-as­sisted sui­cide ini­tia­tive.

In a set­back for the “aid in dy­ing” move­ment, Ques­tion 2, known as the Death With Dig­nity ini­tia­tive, lost by a mar­gin of 51 per­cent to 49 per­cent af­ter lead­ing by 68-to-20 in a poll re­leased in early Septem­ber by the Bos­ton Globe.

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.

“This is a wel­come road­block in what many sup­port­ers of as­sisted sui­cide thought would be a Sher­manesque march to the sea,” said Wes­ley J. Smith, a se­nior fel­low at the Dis­cov­ery In­sti­tute’s Cen­ter on Hu­man Ex­cep­tion­al­ism. “It shows that op­po­si­tion to as­sisted sui­cide is not strictly a Catholic thing, nor a reli­gious one — al­though that cer­tainly plays a part.”

Joe Baer­lein, whose Bos­ton po­lit­i­cal-con­sult­ing firm, Rasky Baer­lein, helped run the an­tiQues­tion 2 cam­paign, said the win came de­spite ini­tial re­search show­ing that Mas­sachusetts vot­ers agreed by a mar­gin of 2-1 that in­di­vid­u­als should make their own end-of-life de­ci­sions.

“Truth­fully, my col­leagues and I looked at this and thought we had an in­sur­mount­able task ahead of us,” said Mr. Baer­lein, a for­mer Demo­cratic cam­paign op­er­a­tive. “We mounted a cam­paign where even if you have these be­liefs, you don’t like the way it would be han­dled un­der Ques­tion 2.”

The key was con­vinc­ing vot­ers to think about the de­tails. 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.

The No on 2 camp ar­gued that the ini­tia­tive had too many flaws. No psy­chi­a­trist was re­quired to screen pa­tients for de­pres­sion. 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.

“The doc­tor wasn’t re­quired to be present at the death. Vot­ers didn’t like that,” Mr. 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?’”

While Bos­ton Arch­bishop Car­di­nal Sean O’Mal­ley was an ac­tive op­po­nent, the cam­paign broad­ened its coali­tion by bring­ing in Jewish, Mus­lim and evangelical lead­ers.

“On Elec­tion Day, we had a rabbi, a black min­is­ter and a doc­tor hold­ing ‘No on 2’ signs, which is rare,” Mr. Baer­lein said.

Then there was the money. The No on 2 cam­paign raised nearly $5 mil­lion, thanks in large part to Catholic in­sti­tu­tions and lead­ers, giv­ing it a 3-to-1 ad­van­tage over the pro-Ques­tion 2 cam­paign.

“If you look at the tremen­dous amount of com­mer­cials waged against us, to have come within 50,000 votes is truly amaz­ing,” said Mickey MacIn­tyre, chief pro­gram of­fi­cer of Com­pas­sion and Choices, a pro-eu­thana­sia group that backed the Ques­tion 2 cam­paign.

He said de­feat of Ques­tion 2 doesn’t change the sur­veys show­ing that most Amer­i­cans sup­port “aid in dy­ing.”

“We know the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple be­lieve in hav­ing aid in dy­ing, but it’s dif­fi­cult in an ini­tia­tive sit­u­a­tion when you’re that badly out­spent, es­pe­cially when the op­po­si­tion is telling vot­ers, ‘You can be­lieve in death with dig­nity but not the specifics of this mea­sure,’” Mr. MacIn­tyre said.

John Kelly, di­rec­tor of Sec­ond Thoughts in Bos­ton, a dis­abil­ity ad­vo­cacy group, said the No on 2 cam­paign avoided be­ing pegged as a par­ti­san fight. Sev­eral prom­i­nent Democrats spoke out against it, in­clud­ing colum­nist E.J. Dionne; Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; and Vic­to­ria Reg­gie Kennedy, wife of the late Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy.

Sec­ond Thoughts also en­dorsed Ques­tion 3, the suc­cess­ful med­i­cal-marijuana ini­tia­tive, and linked the two is­sues un­der the ban­ner of pa­tients’ rights.

“We were able to get enough of a dis­abled rights per­spec­tive so that the ar­che­typal cul­ture war — reli­gious con­ser­va­tives ver­sus sec­u­lar Democrats — was not set up,” Mr. Kelly said. “And I think that’s what the other side thought would hap­pen.”

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