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BY Evelyn Barella
FLINT, Mich.—The ballot measure to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Michigan could likely pass, according to one survey of focus groups and likely voters.
The survey, conducted in July for Citizens for Compassionate Care, found 47% of the people in eight focus groups and 500 likely voters supported a measure to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Forty-two percent opposed the initiative and 11% were undecided.
The polling company, Public Opinion Strategies, noted that ballot language had not been settled by the time of the survey, so the likely voters were responding to the concept of the measure instead of the actual question.
“I think many people in Michigan already have a view on assisted suicide basically because of [Dr. Jack] Kevorkian and the media attention the issue has had,” said Tom Farrell, a volunteer media relations director for Citizens for Compassionate Care, based in Lansing.
The survey showed that support for and opposition to the measure has strong coalitions. Those who oppose physician-assisted suicide tended to identify with conservative, pro-life, or Republican Party positions. Opposition among those groups was found to be so strong that there were no circumstances in which a majority would support assisted suicide.
In contrast, those who favored legalizing physician-assisted suicide identified strongly with liberal, pro-choice and Democratic Party positions. The study found that within those groups women, African-Americans, and those without health insurance were more likely to oppose the measure.
Among that group of supporters, there were few circumstances under which they would not back legalizing physician-assisted suicide.
The survey found the undecided voters were likely to be more moderate, less religious, and less partisan in their outlook.
That's the group of voters defined by Citizens for Compassionate Care as “persuadable” and who were among the target audiences of efforts by Michigan's bishops to educate Catholics on Church teaching on the issue.
The survey and focus groups also found that voters responded negatively to Kevorkian, who has become known for his involvement with assisted suicides. The report said participants believe Kevorkian brings out the worst abuses in physician-assisted suicide.
The measure to legalize assisted suicide will be on the Michigan ballot as Proposal B.
In anticipation of Election Day Nov. 3, the bishops who head Michigan's seven dioceses released a statement affirming their “collective efforts to educate the 2.5 million Catholics in our state on the problems with Proposal B. In each of our dioceses we will speak to our people about this proposal as is our right to do.”
They said that in the days leading up to the vote, much will be said about the measure “and it is our sincere hope that what is said will be truthful, especially as it relates to the Catholic position on physician-assisted suicide.”
They also took issue with an organization which voiced outrage that a Catholic citizen's group was speaking out against legalizing assisted suicide.
“It is a deep irony then, that the leaders of the Merian's Friends movement were outraged by a Catholic citizens group speaking out on Proposal B as a violation of ‘separation of church and state.’ Yet, they use a quote from Pope John Paul II and his encyclical The Gospel of Life, to advance their efforts to impose their proposal of death on the people of Michigan,” the bishops said.
“The Church has not, does not, nor ever will support physician-assisted suicide in any form or fashion,” the bishops said. “The Catholic Church has long held that one may legitimately choose to relieve pain by use of medications which may have the unfortunate side effect of decreasing consciousness or shortening one's life, if this is done with the intent of relieving pain and no other means are available to serve this goal. This is very different from the direct intention to take life as is the intent of Proposal B.”
The statement was signed by Adam Cardinal Maida of Detroit and Bishops Patrick Cooney of Gaylord, James Garland of Marquette, James Murray of Kalamazoo, Carl Mengeling of Lansing, Robert Rose of Grand Rapids, and Kenneth Untener of Saginaw.
According to Farrell, after a couple of weeks of an advertising campaign to defeat Proposal B, the members of Citizens for Compassionate Care were hopeful the tables are turning.
“The campaign is really heating up,” he told The Catholic Times, newspaper of the Lansing Diocese. “We hope it's tightened up and we might even be ahead for our position. We've already spent $800,000 in a $2 million campaign.”
Farrell said Merian's Friends, the major group supporting physician-assisted suicide, spent most of its money to get the measure on the November ballot. “They were in the hole when the campaign started,” he added.
Contributing to this story was Kathy Funk.