A Massachusetts Tale of David and Goliath

Grassroots Campaign Thwarts Physician Assisted Suicide Ballot

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By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, NOV. 15, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Amid the furor of the United States elections last week, one surprising story stood out. Against all odds and prognostications, the citizens of Massachusetts voted to reject physician assisted suicide. It seemed impossible – Massachusetts, the first state in the Union to allow homosexual marriage, with a media machine that was favorable to the referendum – appeared sure to win.

The “Dignity 2012” campaign proposed to allow physician-assisted suicide for those diagnosed with a terminal illness with six months or less to live. The American Medical Women’s Association and the American medical Student’s Association both endorsed the act, the latter claiming that ” that quality of life is an important part of health care” the statement then explained that they “adopted the position of supporting the choice of terminally-ill patients who wish to end their suffering. Death with Dignity encompasses this principle and we thoroughly support it.” 

Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank not only supported the act, but also condemned the opponents of physician assisted suicide claiming “I know firsthand how extreme these groups can be, Death with Dignity is a personal choice and we deserve to have a fair and meaningful dialogue, not a smear campaign loaded with scare tactics and funded by radical anti‐gay, anti‐choice hate groups.”

So with the proponents of the act held up as protectors of human dignity and those who opposed represented as hate groups, by October 2012, one month away from the election, polls showed that 65% of voters were favorable to the measure. Stephen Crawford, communications director of the Dignity 2012 campaign was able to boast “We’re confident … that we’ll be successful in November,”

It looked grim for the Bay State. The Catholic Church had waged a counter campaign, the bishops of Boston, Worchester, Springfield and Fall River working to defeat the measure joined by several high profile doctors, in particular Dr Ezekiel J. Emanuel who contributed several important opinions to the New York Times. Opponents raised 1.5 million dollars to take out advertisements, but on the eve of November 4 it seemed that the people of Massachusetts had made up their minds.

The next day, as the 2.7 million residents of Massachusetts voted, slowly the tide turned, Death with Dignity was defeated 51% to 49%. A tiny margin of 62,000 votes made the difference when a few weeks ago a landslide victory had been predicted.

What happened? It wasn’t money, the millions of dollars hadn’t convinced voters by October, nor had natural disasters or television blandishments turned the tables. The secret was in grassroots at its best, with the first seed sprouting in one Boston’s most troubled neighborhoods, Dorchester.

This neighborhood, site of 22 murders in 2011, has contributed more than its share to Boston ranking as the 6thhighest violent crime rate in the nation. One might wonder why one of Beantown’s most notorious neighborhoods took such an interest in life.

Dorchester however, also has a history of civil rights activism. Martin Luther King Jr lived there while completing his studies at Boston University and his preaching drew hundreds of followers, who, in turn, went out and changed the world.

This same neighborhood rallied to another preacher in 2012. As Reverend Gene Rivers, of the Azusa Christian Community recognized the dangers of physician assisted suicide to his community, he spoke to his fellow Pentecostal pastors who turned to their flocks.

Pentecostals make up 2% of the 6.5 million population of Massachusetts, about 130,000 people. Knocking on doors, sending emails and preaching from the pulpit, this number made a difference.

Pentecostal teaching holds that every individual is made lovingly by God and is therefore a divine creation. God determines the destiny of every individual, although He does not often reveal His reasons. Taking a life, even one’s own, is sinful, because it interferes with God’s plan. Pentecostals also believe that life begins at conception; therefore, abortion is murder and a sin.

Reverend Rivers recognized that physician assisted suicide, while presented as “compassionate” solution, not only violates church teaching, but also holds deeper dangers for the poorer and disadvantaged classes.

The poor, especially those with disabilities or racial minorities, already have difficulties accessing good healthcare. As suicide for terminally ill and inevitably, those with “low quality of life” became more diffuse, these groups would find themselves targeted in short order. As Blessed John Paul II presciently warned “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” What could demonstrate more dignity than the death of this beloved pope, who in need of assistance and visibly ill continued to carry out his mission until his dying breath?

In 1985, the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law convened by Governor Mario Cuomo, rejected the proposed repeal or amendment of the New York law on assisted suicide reasoning that,

“It must be recognized that assisted suicide and euthanasia will be practiced through the prism of social

inequality and prejudice that characterizes the delivery of services in all segments of society including

health care. Those who will be most vulnerable to abuse, error, or indifference are the poor, minorities,

and those who are least educated and least empowered.”

As abortion industry giant  Planned Parenthood places many of its clinics in neighborhoods with high density of racial minorities, so would this same group be targeted for physician assisted suicide. The pressure would intensify as the United States becomes increasingly a welfare state and the costs of taking care of the elderly and “unproductive” members of society grow unsustainable.

As Reverend Rivers and his fellowship persuaded their parishes, person by person and service after service, the tide of voters against the measure swelled and ultimately were able to  close a 15 point margin in three weeks, snatching victory from the very jaws of defeat.

This David and Goliath story also teaches that we should learn to bond with those who share the same concerns for the vulnerable and  voiceless to defeat the ever-growing tide of evil.

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