Broad coalitions stem the tide of euthanasia

Amidst the presentations at the First International Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Toronto Nov. 30-Dec. 1 were three speakers who spoke about the successful attempts by those opposed to the practice to halt the passage of laws legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide in England, California and Vermont. They were represented by Dr. Bill Saunders of Care Not Killing U.K., Dr. Bob Orr of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Health Care and Maryline Golden, a person with disabilities associated with the Disability Rights Education and Defence Fund (DREDF), who fought successfully to halt legislation in California.

Several trends emerged in the presentations, such as the ability to win the public debate despite having far less funds available than opponents and the relative openness of the general public and legislators to the life-affirming position, given proper education on the issue. Notably, there have been ongoing failures by the pro-euthanasia and assisted-suicide lobby to pass laws in close to 30 U.S. states, yet all we hear about is the successful effort to legalize euthanasia in Oregon.

The speakers noted continued attempts by the pro-euthanasia and assisted-suicide lobby to infiltrate professional bodies and render the policies of medical and nursing associations at least neutral, if not supportive, of their cause. To counter these efforts, those opposed to euthanasia have put at the forefront of the battle carefully chosen spokespeople for the life-affirming position, with leading roles being played by medical professionals and persons with disabilities. The speakers each in their own way underlined the importance of utilizing broad coalitions of people from different organizations and perspectives that might not be in agreement with each other over most public policy issues.

Perhaps the most sensitive issue surrounding the successful attempts to halt legislation to legalize euthanasia and assisted-suicide discussed at the symposium was the role of faith groups within the coalition. Presenting anti-euthanasia arguments to the public in an increasingly secular political culture, as well as the requirement for unity of purpose amongst their coalitions, leads to the need of activists to read their intended audience and choose their spokespeople accordingly, without at the same time looking as though they are either ashamed of their religious affiliations or are essentially religious fundamentalists hiding behind a secular front.

Maryline Golden spoke to the use by DREDF of polling firms associated with Democratic Party causes that provided data shown to the public about the opinions of the Latino community in California. She also highlighted the fact that their coalition included people across a broad political spectrum, including some unexpected partners, but placed less emphasis upon the role of churches that played a crucial role in their battle.

The tactics discussed by the speakers were demonstrably successful in garnering support for their cause This was witnessed in England by the enormous turnout for the final vote on the Joffe Bill in the House of Lords, which was purposely scheduled on a Friday afternoon when most Lords are usually absent.  Similarly, the term “Vermont Miracle,” was coined to describe the effectiveness of the campaign in that state to change the minds of many legislators who, only a few weeks before the vote, supported the bill by a wide margin.