Death Penalty, Assisted Suicide Measures Fail in California, Massachusetts

Two efforts to change policies on state-prescribed death failed at the ballot boxes.
by , | November 7, 2012

For full election coverage and analysis, go to Governing's 2012 Election Center.

On the question of death, voters in both California and Massachusetts chose to maintain the status quo Tuesday night rather than make a change.

California voters turned down a ballot initiative that would have banned the death penalty in the state, 53 percent to 47 percent. The initiative would have set life without the possibility of parole as the most severe punishment in the state’s judicial system. State officials had estimated that it would save California at least $100 million annually.

The initiative was fighting against opposition from law enforcement officials, victims’ rights groups and three former governors, according to the San Jose Mercury News, who said capital punishment should be preserved for the very worst offenders. The state has executed 13 people since 1978, a reflection that the death penalty is already sparsely used there compared to other states.

California would have become the 17th state to ban the death penalty.

In Massachusetts, the “Death with Dignity” initiative, which would have legalized a form of assisted suicide, was narrowly defeated: 51 percent to 49 percent. The proposal would have allowed terminally ill patients to request a lethal dosage of medications with the approval of their doctor and a second opinion.

The initiative faced an advertising blitz from opponents in the final weeks, the MassLive news service noted, as groups such as the Catholic Church and the Massachusetts Medical Association hardened in their opposition. That allowed opponents to flip the electorate, which had showed solid support for the initiative for most of the election season.

Massachusetts would have become the fourth state (after Montana, Oregon and Washington) to authorize some form of physician-assisted suicide.

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