The Most Contested Public Health Questions on November 6 Ballots: Gay Marriage, GMOs and More
On state and federal levels, decisions made by voters tomorrow will have profound implications for public health. Here are the biggest issues being considered:
1. Do terminally ill patients have a right to terminate their lives, and should physicians be complicit?
Probably the most buzzed-about ballot initiative is Massachusetts’ move toward “Death with Dignity.” Voting yes on Question 2 will allow the states’ doctors “to prescribe medication, at the request of a terminally-ill patient meeting certain conditions, to end that person’s life.”
The “certain conditions” include the patient having six months or fewer to live and being judged medically capable to make medical decisions. The patient will have to submit the request twice orally and once in writing.
A similar law has been on the books in Oregon since 1994; more recently, Montana and Washington legalized physician-assisted suicide as well. The open intensely personal topic is ripe for controversy, but also morally ambiguous, and it doesn’t adhere clearly to party politics.
The Massachusetts Medical Society officially came out against the measure, arguing, on a practical level, that “the proposed safeguards against abuse are insufficient,” that it’s difficult to determine exactly when someone’s six months would begin, and that there are other ways of improving end of life care. More loftily, they reasserted the idea that “physician assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.”
2. Does the definition of marriage include gay and lesbian couples?
Washington and Maryland will be deciding whether to uphold laws legalizing same-sex marriage, meaning married gay and lesbian couples are waiting to find out whether they’ll be allowed to stay married. In Maine, voters will potentially overturn a 2009 ballot measure banning gay marriage, which itself was a ban of a previous, legislatively approved law that allowed it.
Minnesota is considering an amendment to its constitution that will define marriage as existing between one man and one woman.