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More than 70% of Mich. voters defeat assisted suicide proposal

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (BP)–Spokesmen for two organizations that helped defeat an attempt to legalize assisted suicide in Michigan credit broad-based coalitions for the victory.
Opponents of Proposal B held a commanding 71-29 percent edge, with approximately 1.7 million voters against the measure and just under 700,000 in favor, according to unofficial returns as of 8 a.m. Nov. 4 Eastern time.
Although voters gave pro-life Gov. John Engler a narrower margin, they also swept him into office for a third term.
Engler handily defeated controversial attorney Geoffrey Feiger, counsel for the infamous suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian, by a 62-38 percent margin with 98 percent of the vote counted.
Christians responded to the threat posed by assisted suicide, according to Mark Blocher of Baptists for Life (BFL), a national organization based in Grand Rapids, Mich., which includes some Southern Baptist churches.
“Overall the church was involved and saw this as a threat to their values,” said Blocher, director of BFL’s Center for Biblical Bioethics. “We sent out thousands of brochures and were pretty active in the campaign.”
The Baptists were one of more than 30 religious, civic and medical organizations leading the fight against assisted suicide. They organized under the banner of Citizens for Compassion Care (CCC).
Although it will disband, the group is encouraging participants to get involved in two other, hospice-related organizations.
“Exit polls were so strong that we knew we had won by mid- afternoon,” said CCC spokesman Tom Farrell. “I don’t think after this landslide defeat it will come back very soon in Michigan.”
A group known as Merian’s Friends fought to pass the law. The organization took its name from Merian Frederick, a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who ended her life with Kevorkian’s help.
But even Kevorkian came out against the proposal, saying it was too complex. Ed Pierce, a physician and spokesman for the Ann Arbor group, told the Detroit Free Press they had been expecting the loss.
“We spent a lot of time and effort on the campaign, but we never amassed the treasury we needed to do an effective job,” he said.
Farrell said Citizens for Compassionate Care will wind up spending close to $6 million. Merian’s Friends raised just over $1 million, he said, but had to spend $900,000 to place the initiative before the voters.
“They peaked when they got on the ballot,” said the former government press officer, noting CCC’s educational campaign swayed numerous voters. “They did not put together a coalition.”
Earlier this year, the Michigan legislature outlawed assisted suicide. By defeating the measure to overturn it, Farrell said that law has been strengthened.
“With this overwhelming defeat, it gives the courts and juries a tool if [Kevorian] continues,” he said. “We’ve had the debate.”
Engler seemingly benefited from the outrageous, anti-Christian and anti-Catholic sentiments of Feiger, once quoted as calling Jesus a “goofball.” But Blocher doesn’t think the gubernatorial and assisted suicide issues were related.
Although Engler issued a statement against Proposal B in mid-September, the director of BFL’s biblical bioethics division said the governor barely spoke about social issues.
“I only recall him talking about it one time,” Blocher said. “The assisted suicide vote probably helped the Democratic candidate for attorney general because it got Catholics out and they tend to vote Democratic.”
A Christian ethics professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the vote against assisted suicide proves that “the devil is in the details.”
Ben Mitchell said the public generally supports the idea, but putting the concept into law is a different matter. Fears over how it will be put into effect and potential abuses are behind their reservations, he said.
“The result is a hopeful sign that voters are concerned about the implementation of assisted suicide,” said Mitchell, a consultant to the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
However, he added, he doesn’t consider the vote evidence that public sentiment has changed. The Michigan proposal was so complex that “right to die” groups may write simpler laws now, he said, predicting the fight to establish the practice will continue.
“This is another skirmish in a long battle and we ought not to take heart, or lose hope, based on this one initiative,” he said.
Nor does he think the vote will put a halt to Kevorkian helping people take their lives.
“Kevorkian’s a renegade and he’s said as much, that there’s no law that will stop him,” Mitchell said. “The only thing that will stop him is a jury willing to convict him of a crime.”

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  • Ken Walker