Boston Archdiocesan Execs Fail to Support Defeat of Assisted Suicide

November 28, 2012

In our last post, “Inside the Defeat of Question 2”, we talked about defeating Question 2 (physician assisted suicide) from the perspective of the public campaign waged by diocesan PR firm, Rasky Baerlein.  Today we shift perspectives to tell you who from the Boston Archdiocese contributed financially to the campaign and who did not.  Public records show that nearly all of the Boston Archdiocese lay executives who are paid $150K+ a year from the archdiocese did not contribute financially towards the diocese-supported issue advocacy campaign to defeat physician assisted suicide.  For those high-paid lay diocesan execs who neither contributed financially to the campaign nor worked to defeat the ballot measure in other ways, this raises a number of questions.

This report from the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) gives a listing of everyone who contributed to the main opposition initiative, the Boston archdiocesan-backed Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide, whose strategy and campaign was run by Rasky Baerlein.  The total contributions were $4.3M.  When you look at who gave and did not give, the inevitable conclusions are astonishing.

Here is who gave personal contributions from their own bank account:

  • Vicar General, Bishop-elect Robert Deeley (who makes about $41K/year) gave $200.
  • Secretary for Faith Formation Janet Benestad (who makes $140K/year) gave $500.
  • Secretary for Social Services and Healthcare Fr. Bryan Hehir (a Harvard Kennedy School professor paid $0 by the RCAB and paid only by Harvard, where the average professor salary is $198K) gave $200.
  • Pro-life Office Director, Marianne Luthin (who makes considerably less than $100K) gave $1,000.
  • Catholic Schools Campaign Vice President of Development, Mary Myers (Flynn) gave $100.

That is as far as we can tell quickly, but perhaps we missed someone. While we see a St. Johns seminarian, who earns no income and is planning to give his life to God, gave $200, only one of the 17-odd people making six-figure salaries above $150K gave a buck or more to this important initiative. (See “Up in Alms over Salaries” and “Bloated Payroll: Inaction).

Here are the highest-paid lay executives people who earn about $150K or more and who made no financial contribution to the campaign:

  • Mary Grassa O’Neill, Secretary for Education/schools superintendent: $325K
  • Beirne Lovely, General Counsel: $300K
  • Scot Landry, Secretary for Catholic Media: $250K
  • Kathleen Driscoll, Secretary for Institutional Advancement: $230-250K est.
  • John Straub, Chancellor: $200K-$225K est.
  • Mark Dunderdale: Director of Office of Professional Standards: $200K
  • James Walsh, Assistant Schools Superintendent: $185K
  • Francis O’Connor: Assistant Gen. Counsel: $180K
  • Terry Donilon: Communications Secretary: $162k
  • Jim McEnness: Director of Risk: $154K

The other people who make $150K+ a year have not had their salaries publicly published yet, but they include:

  • Joseph D’Arrigo, Executive Director, Clergy Benefits
  • Mary Doorley, Vice President of Development
  • Carol Gustavson, Executive Director, Lay Benefits and Building Services
  • Steven McDevitt, Director of IT

Add them all up, and, as we said in “Bloated Payroll” earlier this year, you get about $3.5M in salaries, not counting benefits.  A year ago September, their boss, Cardinal O’Malley called on Catholics to oppose physician-assisted suicide, saying, “We are called upon to defend the gospel of life with courage and resolve.”  Yet except for one lay exec, none of them could even muster $50 to give to a campaign to stop an initiative that Cardinal O’Malley recently called a “terrible assault on human life.

A lot of people should be asking why these high-paid lay executives did not give anything to the campaign. (Nor, curiously, did anyone who works for Rasky Baerlein, the folks who ran the campaign give to their own campaign).  One can only guess it must have been one of the following reasons:

  1. They knew about the campaign and its importance, but did not necessarily agree with the Rasky Baerlein strategy or how Rasky was spending money, and instead contributed their time and energies to other ways of helping defeat Question 2.
  2. They were somehow oblivious to the campaign, its importance and need for donations
  3. They felt they were working toward the defeat of Q2 in their day-job already and thus did not need to give any personal contribution
  4. They wanted to contribute but did not have the personal funds to give anything, despite earning $150K/year in salary, so they prayed instead
  5. They knew about the campaign, its importance and need for donations, but felt enough other people and organizations were giving, so their contribution was unnecessary
  6. They view their employment with the archdiocese as a job, not a vocation or part of contributing to the mission of the Catholic Church. They do their job and collect their substantial paycheck, and that is it.
  7. They did not support the defeat of Question 2, and were in favor of physician-assisted suicide
  8. Some other reason not listed above

Note, there were two other campaigns opposing physician-assisted suicide–those run by Second Thoughts or the MCFL-backed Massachusetts Against Doctor Prescribed Suicide- No on 2.  We checked both of those lists, and did not find donations by these lay execs there either. If someone gave but did not make it to one of these reports, please let us know and we will issue a correction.

If the reason above for folks not contributing was #1, that makes good sense, and we take back any implied criticism for those in that category.  Furthermore, BCI cannot judge what is in the hearts and minds of these lay executives who work for the Boston Archdiocese. But, for the vast majority of these people, their day jobs had them doing nothing whatsoever to help defeat Question 2. So, unless these execs were out there in the trenches trying to sway people in their local region (which our sources say most were not), it is tough to understand why they did not at least do something for the cause by contributing.  For someone paid extremely well by the Boston Archdiocese who embraces the saving mission of the Catholic Church, why would they not be able to dig into their pocket to donate even $50 to this crucial initiative that the Cardinal Archbishop was obviously very committed to and their own moral compass should have told them to oppose.  What does that say?

The problem of high paid lay archdiocesan execs is allowed to continue, in part, by folks who BCI will call “the enablers.” These are the big donors and supporters of the Catholic Appeal who keep giving and keep encouraging other Catholics to give money, when no action has been taken still to address the problem of excessive six-figure salaries (or many other problems) that have gone on for many years.  They never tell Cardinal O’Malley, “I am stopping my donations to the appeal until you take dramatic, visible action to cut the excessive six-figure salaries that are wasting my contributions.”Nor do they tell the Cardinal, “I am stopping my donations to the appeal until you remove people from your team and advisory circle whose efforts work against the Catholic Church in the public square.”  Instead, they attend or sponsor gatherings of big donors and get their photos taken with the Cardinal.  An example is seen in a recent blog post by the Cardinal and Pilot pickup.  John and Kristine DeMatteo recently hosted a Cardinal’s Leadership Circle event in their Wellesley home.  As best as BCI can tell from here, they are known to be solid Catholics with a strong commitment to their family and pro-life and pro-family causes.  John contributed $5,000 to the Committee Against Assisted Suicide. They give a lot to the Catholic Appeal and their names appear on lists of donors to other pro-life and pro-family causes. They will, no doubt, be upset to see their names published here at BCI.

Do the DeMatteo’s and others like them not believe their donations to the Catholic Appeal are being squandered on excessive six-figure salaries?  If so, what do they do to change that?  We also wonder how they will feel knowing they gave a generous contribution to defeat the ballot measure, but at the same time, none but one of the archdiocesan execs whose $150K+ salaries are, in part, paid by the DeMatteo’s generous support of the Catholic Appeal, gave a penny to that campaign.  If anyone knows the DeMatteos, drop them an email or drop a dime and ask them to bring this matter up with Cardinal O’Malley directly.

To be clear, our issue in this post is not about priests, who make low pay and work tirelessly in their parishes or other ministries, or with lay people who worked against physician-assisted suicide in ways other than financially contributing to the campaign. But when it comes to high-paid archdiocesan execs, BCI thinks Catholics should be rip-roaring mad that most of them neither gave a penny to support a highly visible, extremely important campaign opposing a “terrible assault on human life” nor gave their time and energies to opposing the measure in other ways.  If their job function did not give them a role to work against the measure,  and their financial means permitted it, the least we should expect is that their moral conscience and commitment to the saving mission of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church would have compelled them to do something or contribute financially. We think this is a big part of the problem in the Boston Archdiocese today. What do you think?


Inside the Defeat of Question 2: Rasky Baerlein

November 25, 2012

By now, just about everyone has shared their take on how the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, along with a coalition of many other organizations. helped get 51% of voters in Massachusetts to vote No on Question 2–the ballot measure that would have legalized physician assisted suicide in Massachusetts.  There has been much patting each other on the back publicly and privately.  BCI was hoping by now that others would have shared all of the key information., but alas, that has not happened. So, in the next few blog posts, we felt we should weigh-in to give you some some additional information you might not have been aware of.

For starters, we again commend Cardinal O’Malley, the team from the Boston Archdiocese, and all who worked on this effort for the win. There were actually two coalitions–the main and best-funded group was the Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide (whose strategy and campaign was led by Rasky Baerlein, and which included the Catholic Bishops along with other religious faiths), but there was a second key group, No on Question 2, (whose strategy and campaign was led by the Wayne Johnson Agency, and which included patient and disability rights organizations, Second Thoughts, Mass Citizens for Life, and others).  Given the dismal poll in September that showed we were behind 68% to 19%, the comeback was a major accomplishment. Cardinal O’Malley wrote a number of excellent columns in The Pilot, the television and radio ads produced by several different groups were well-done and effective, and the effort to move public opinion worked. We posted a number of times on why people should have voted NO, and we were delighted that the ballot measure was defeated. Here are a few of the articles on the topic that came out discussing the win:

O’Malley lauds defeat of doctor-assisted suicide bill (Boston Globe)

Boston Cardinal Lauds Rejection of Assisted-Suicide Bill (National Catholic Register)

Mass. voters say no to assisted suicide (The Boston Pilot)

Inclusion key in anti-suicide drive (The Washington Times)

Now that we have duly expressed accolades to everyone for their efforts that resulted in defeating Question 2, we need to look at the rest of the story. Lest everyone locally and in other parts of the country conclude the Massachusetts experience is the model for the future, we need to remove the rose-colored glasses and look at a few things that did not make it into the media coverage about the 51%-49% win for our side.

Bad Advice from Political Consulting Firm

First of all, while the political consulting firm, Rasky Baerlein, is busy congratulating themselves publicly on how they overcame the “insurmountable task” of convincing Massachusetts voters to vote No on Question 2 despite initial research showing most voters felt people should be able to make their own end-of-life decisions, somehow Rasky is forgetting to mention how it was their advice to stay silent until the last minute that left us in the precarious situation of being behind by 48 points a month before the vote. Though Cardinal O’Malley kept a regular stream of columns going in The Pilot, priests and lay people were asking all during the summer what was going on with the near-total blackout by the rest of the Boston Archdiocese on this issue until Labor Day–both in parishes and in the public discourse. Rasky Baerlein, who has an undefeated record on ballot questions, and who, coincidentally, is staffed by a considerable number of Obama donors and former Joe Biden campaign staff, told the archdiocese to hit the “pause” button on educational efforts–they had it all figured out.  It is explained in this excellent piece by Fr. Roger Landry:

Finally, we need to grasp why we were trailing 68-19 percent a month from the election and never make the same mistake again. Polls at the beginning of the year showed us trailing 43-37 percent. At the terrible advice of the political consultants advising the Church, however, we basically suspended all educational efforts until after Labor Day and even pulled superb educational materials from the Internet. The other side was able to advance its arguments when our side muted itself voluntarily. Few knew what was even on the ballot, not to mention why Question 2 should be defeated. Thanks be to God, we had just enough time to triumph at the end, but we should never have been down as much as we were. The Church’s educational efforts should be ongoing and never muzzled. And they should continue now all the more, because what we’ve just won is but one important victory in a much larger war in defense of human dignity.

He is absolutely right–we should never have been down by as much as we were.  The geniuses at Rasky Baerlein made that happen, with management oversight from none other than Terry Donilon and Fr. Bryan Hehir.  Then, to make up for their flawed advice and lack of an effective ground-game, in the final minutes of the ball game, we had to raise and spend nearly $5 million dollars for the “air cover”, media program and overhead fees.

Cost of the Campaign

It was important to win this one and not let the assisted suicide folks get victory in Massachusetts and New England beachhead.  But it cost a lot of money to win, especially because of the approach Rasky took, or failed to take.  From the Boston Archdiocese and related entities, the Boston Archdiocese contributed $250K in cash, plus $80K in in-kind donations, Boston Catholic TV contributed $1 million, and St. Johns Seminary also gave $1 million. Most agencies like Rasky charge about 10-15% in agency fees on top of any production costs–namely for research, creative development, website development, overhead/profit on media purchases and project management.  Of the total Committee Against Physician-Assisted Suicide expenses of $4.3M, records Rasky made a handsome $366K in agency profit for their work.  Oh by the way, did we mention how Rasky returned a $250K donation from the American Family Association merely because they are pro-family and support the centuries-old definition of marriage as the permanent union of a man and woman?   They did not want any controversy because AFA was seen as “anti-gay.”  Also, Rasky had spent nearly $600K before Sept 1 on something or other, without ever launching a single ad.

What Rasky Does Not Know they Do Not Know

Rasky thinks they know web marketing and social media.  They pitched the archdiocese on that and spent a small fortune of around $115K just building a website. Someone needs to tell them they know next to nothing in this area.  Dozens of people who visited the website of the Committee Against Assisted Suicide wrote to BCI and asked, “What’s with this?”  Why should someone “sign the petition”?  It was a citizen’s ballot initiative–for crying out loud, what was a petition for?  To give to whom?  It was stupid–just ask people to sign-up for an email update list.  “Tell a friend”?  OK, I upload all of my friends names and then I have to compose my own message too?  What good is that?  People sent email messages to the contact email address and told BCI they never got responses.

BCI could go much further, but will pause for now.  In our next installment, we will discuss the risks facing us after the win, where there were pitfalls, and how and where we really won the battle. In the end, we won, and that was most important. But if we intend to learn from the past so as to do better in the future, we need to take off the rose-colored glasses and look at the cup from the vantage point of being both half-full and half-empty.  More next time.


Election 2012 Outcome: Religion was a Factor

November 7, 2012

Watching the election results last night was very painful.

The one piece of consolation for BCI in the results was that in Massachusetts, we managed to defeat Question 2, physician-assisted suicide — 51% voted no vs 49% who voted yes. Praise God for that triumph over evil. Kudos to all who worked to defeat it, including Cardinal O’Malley and the team from the archdiocese.  BCI spoke to and heard from people working to oppose the measure in recent weeks, and found it troubling that the compelling moral arguments against physician-assisted suicide worked less well in persuading people to oppose it vs talking about how the law was flawed in its wording.  Still, we are very glad it was defeated, and we hope it does not come back again.

On a local level, we were very disappointed to see pro-abort candidates Elizabeth Warren and Joe Kennedy III win.

Of course, the worse outcome was seeing the most pro-abortion President in our nation’s history get re-elected, and seeing how voters who consider themselves Catholic helped that victory.

Catholics represent more than a quarter of the electorate. According to this Politico article, and this one from the Catholic Sentinel, Obama won Catholic voters 50 percent to 47 percent, though Catholics who attend Mass weekly seem to have favored Romney.  Obama also won 70 percent of the Jewish vote, down from 78 percent in 2008.  Romney carried Protestant voters by a 13-point margin, 56 percent to 43 percent. Here’s more from the Huffington Post:

Obama carried Electoral College votes in several battleground states where religious voters were key parts of the electorate, including Catholic-heavy Ohio, evangelical-heavy Iowa, and Virignia. Another swing stage with a large population of religious voters, Florida, was too close to call by early Wednesday morning.

Initial exit polls — which are expected to change through Wednesday as more results come in — showed a mix bag of support for Obama and Romney among religious voters. Among people who said they attend religious services weekly, for example, exit polls indicated Romney took a significant lead. But among voters who said they attend services “occasionally” or “never,” Obama had large leads.

Early exit poll results also showed Obama losing the overall white evangelical vote to Romney, but winning the overall Catholic vote by just a few points. Among Jewish voters, initial exit polls showed Obama having an overwhelming lead over Romney, but preliminary results also showed him winning a smaller percentage of the Jewish vote than he did four years ago.

And in Maryland and Maine, early reports indicated that ballot initatives that would legalize same-sex marriage — efforts that were strongly opposed by conservative pastors — would pass.

Not good. Religion aside,  Jeff Jacoby, writing in the Boston Globe summarized the Obama victory in this way:

Obama may have eked out a victory, but he won it ugly, and his first term will go down as one of the great squandered boons in American political history. Rarely has a president come to office with such a reservoir of goodwill; rarely has any done so much to poison it. To cling to office, he spent a vast fortune trashing his opponent — a ferocious campaign that epitomized everything he once claimed to oppose.

The last four years changed Obama from the face of “hope and change” to the candidate of “whatever it takes.” What will the next four years bring?

Alas, despite the bad news, we pick ourselves up and carry on.  Much remains in this battle.  A Post-Election 2012 Webcast featuring Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life will take place tonight from 9-10pm and should be a very worthwhile listen. We can also especially take comfort in the scripture readings for today.

From Philippians 2: 12-18, we hear:

My beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work. Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent,
children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life,
so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

In Psalm 27, we hear:

R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple.I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD, in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.

The Gospel, Luke 14:25-33 says:

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

So keep praying, hold onto the Word of God, wait for the Lord with courage, but remember at the same time, we all have to carry our own crosses and follow Christ.

We close today by repeating this Election Prayer to Mary, which is even more meaningful today:

O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, at this most critical time, we entrust the United States of America to your loving care.
Most Holy Mother, we beg you to reclaim this land for the glory of your Son. Overwhelmed with the burden of the sins of our nation, we cry to you from the depths of our hearts and seek refuge in your motherly protection.
Look down with mercy upon us and touch the hearts of our people. Open our minds to the great worth of human life and to the responsibilities that accompany human freedom.
Free us from the falsehoods that lead to the evil of abortion and threaten the sanctity of family life. Grant our country the wisdom to proclaim that God’s law is the foundation on which this nation was founded, and that He alone is the True Source of our cherished rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
O Merciful Mother, give us the courage to reject the culture of death and the strength to build a new Culture of Life.


Election Eve (Nov. 5) Mass and Rosary in Boston

November 4, 2012

Several readers have informed BCI about an Election Eve Mass and Rosary taking place Monday evening, November 5, at St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine, 1105 Boylston Street in Boston.

Here is one of the notices:

As we face an important life-or-death ballot question that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in Massachusetts–as well as local, state, and national elections whose outcomes will affect the lives of the unborn and most vulnerable in society–we pray for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that God will guide all to use the opportunities of our democracy to shape a society that respects and protects the life, dignity, and rights of the human person from the moment of conception to natural death. Rosary at 7:30pm, Mass at 8pm, followed by Eucharistic Adoration.

A great deal is a stake in this election. The latest polls on Question 2 show a majority of voters support physician-assisted suicide. Locally, polls right now suggest voters leaning towards electing Joe Kennedy III (pro-abortion, with almost no professional work experience) over Sean Bielat (pro-life Catholic with extensive professional experience), and odds favor pro-abortion candidate Elizabeth Warren winning for U.S. Senate over moderate Scott Brown.  The presidential race shows a very tight race, but a clearer path to electoral college victory for the anti-Catholic, extreme pro-abortion incumbent, President Obama, than for Mitt Romney, whose public positions are much better aligned with those of the Catholic Church.

When the going gets tough, the tough get praying. By Monday evening, the 30-second commercials will be mostly done.  The “undecideds” will be deciding.  The pollsters will be spinning their predictions.  Besides helping out on Election day with your preferred candidate, one of the best things faithful Catholics can do is pray.

We know that God hears our prayers and answers them. In Jeremiah 29:12, we hear, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” In  Exodus 14.13 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear!  Stand firm  and see  the victory the LORD will win for you today. The LORD will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”  Miracles do happen, but it takes faith and prayer. Praying a Rosary today, Monday, and Tuesday is a great way to ask for divine intervention in the election. If you know of a local parish having a prayer gathering for the election, feel free to post a notice via comments. If not, then for those in the  local Boston area, BCI would encourage you to consider gathering at St. Clements in Boston on Monday evening.

*   *   *   *

One more thing.  A few faithful Catholics continue to talk about not voting in the Massachusetts Senate race because Scott Brown (who actually has a mixed to decent voting record on life issues)  is campaigning as pro-choice, thereby making it almost certain that the rabidly pro-abortion Elizabeth Warren (who has been endorsed by NARAL) will win. Or in the presidential race, they plan to throw their vote away on a third-party candidate who has no chance of winning, thus taking their vote away from Mitt Romney, who is within striking distance of winning, so they will in effect, help re-elect Obama.  We hope if any readers are feeling that way, you reconsider.  Here are a few articles that might sway you better than BCI.

Is There a Lesser of Two Evils?
Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), and writings from St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Paul II, the piece concludes:

“It is therefore quite clear from the moral theology tradition and specific magisterial teaching that a Catholic may vote for a candidate who does not wholly embrace Catholic teaching on the non-negotiable issues.

This can be done:

  • in order to limit the evil that would result if a worse candidate on these issues were elected;
  • provided that this is predominately the intention of voting (other good but lesser motives may also be present); and
  • that the other candidate is indeed worse, and any scandal caused by the appearance of voting for evil is corrected, such as by explaining Catholic teaching and one’s full adherence to it.”

ELECTION 2012: Beware the ‘lesser-of-two-evils’ trap

So if, rather than casting your ballot for Romney/Ryan, you vote for a third-party presidential candidate like the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson or the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode, or write in some name like “Jesus” or “God” or “Ron Paul” (I cite these examples since some people are claiming this is how they will cast their vote for president), or if you refuse to vote, you are knowingly contributing to the continued reign of Barack Obama, the most catastrophic president in history, whose actions of late have bordered on treason and who has almost destroyed America in four years and will complete the job in four more.

As I said at the outset, this is a very close election. Every vote counts. Your vote counts. A few ballots in a few key states next week may well determine the destiny of America for all time.

God forbid that good people, believing they are honoring God, upholding higher principle and refraining from supporting evil, would be deceived through their own anger and pride into doing the opposite and betraying all that they love.

May a Catholic Support a Political Candidate Who is Not Completely Pro-Life?

In the current presidential campaign, I have heard some serious Catholics express reservations about voting for Mitt Romney because of the abortion issue. True, they are aware of how rabidly pro-abortion Barack Obama is. They may even consider him—correctly—the most pro-abortion president the U.S. has ever had. He has a consistent track record of embracing every position the hard-core pro-abortion movement favors, including the Freedom of Choice Act, public funding of abortion, overturning the Mexico City Policy (one of his first acts as president), permitting partial-birth abortion, and even allowing abortion-survivor babies to die. This does not even take into account his other positions at odds with Catholic moral teaching such as supporting same-sex “marriage” and the rest of the homosexualist agenda. Still, Mitt Romney permits abortion exceptions—“hard-case” abortions—so there is really no difference between the two candidates. A Catholic, they say, cannot vote for either of them because this shows that both are pro-abortion.

The central question for Catholics is this: Is it morally acceptable to vote for a candidate like Romney who supports abortion rights in some cases when his opponent is a supporter of sweeping abortion rights?

The answer can be discerned from a statement in John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (#73), which is repeated in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (#570), about the moral obligations and restraints on legislators. Since legislators are the ones who are most directly involved in lawmaking, what is said about them applies a fortiori to the voters selecting them and other public decisionmakers: “when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law…” In other words, if legal abortion cannot be outright overturned—which, barring a major confrontation between the political branches and the Supreme Court that the former clearly have no will to initiate, could happen in the U.S. only with the judicial overturning of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton—a legislator can support lesser initiatives or partial correctives even though they leave the norm of permissive legal abortion intact.

In his 2004 pastoral letter when he was Archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond L. Cardinal Burke—who is now the Prefect of Apostolic Signatura (the Church’s equivalent of the Supreme Court)—directly addressed the question of the moral obligations of the Catholic voter. He said that a Catholic who “is clear in his or her opposition to the moral evil of procured abortion could vote for a candidate who supports the limitation of the legality of procured abortion, even though the candidate does not oppose all use of procured abortion, if the other candidate(s) do not support the limitation of the evil of procured abortion.” (#41) This is exactly the situation in the Romney-Obama contest. In fact, Cardinal Burke also affirmed explicitly what I have suggested: the standard of Evangelium Vitae for the legislator is applicable to the voter.

Some might ask, given the fact that neither candidate in an election like the current presidential one is against all abortion, whether Catholics should just refuse to vote. They might consider the fact that few U.S. political candidates say they are against all abortion (they will at least claim the life of the mother exception). That means that such Catholic voters would probably have to sit out every election, or at least all the ones for federal offices. I can hardly think of a better way to minimize the influence of faithful Catholic citizens in American politics.

Cardinal Burke framed the decision to not vote in a circumstance where there is a less than ideal pro-life candidate in moral terms: “the Catholic who chooses not to vote at all, when there is a viable candidate who will advance the common good, although not perfectly, fails to fulfill his or her moral duty.” (#43) The CDF document emphasizes that Catholics may not delegate their political responsibilities to others, which is effectively what happens when one chooses not to vote.

Those who try to resolve this putative dilemma in the current election by not casting a vote for the top of the ticket and maybe also in a Congressional race, and instead just voting for state and local offices, should also ponder these words of Cardinal Burke. They should also note his further point that the Catholic voter must “make a prudent decision regarding what best serves the common good.” (#44) Additionally, those thinking about voting for an obscure third-party candidate should consider whether, under the circumstances, it is a prudent choice (actually, I’m not sure there is a pro-life third-party presidential candidate on many state ballots this year). The same thing obviously applies to write-ins.

Moreover, while all procured abortion is a moral abomination, we have to be realistic on a practical level about drawing an equivalency between an abortion-on-demand candidate or public policy and a hard-cases one. Even the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which was previously the research arm of Planned Parenthood, reports that only .3% of all U.S. abortions are done for reasons of rape, .03% because of incest, .1% because of a threat to the mother’s life, and 98% for mostly reasons of preference. So, the Romney-Obama election is between a man who favors that fewer than .5% of the 1.2 million abortions in the U.S. each year should be legal and one who favors that 100% of them should be.

Perhaps the prudence that Cardinal Burke spoke of is the political application of the old aphorism that the perfect must not become the enemy of the good. It seems to be particularly applicable this election year.


Boston Globe: Vote NO on Assisted Suicide

November 2, 2012

Today the Boston Globe Editorial team published an editorial where they voiced opposition to Question 2.  This is good news.  Here is one of the best passages:

And rather than bring society to a consensus on how to approach the end of life, Question 2 adds new and divisive questions to the mix: Should doctors actually help people die more quickly, rather than merely withhold treatment? Does such a regimen serve to weaken society’s belief that lives — even those of the seriously ill, or severely disabled — have value and are worth living?

The entire editorial is below, with passages highlighted by BCI for emphasis.  We suggest you pass this around to friends, family members, or co-workers who still may be enlightened by reading this.

End-of-life discussions, care should come before Question 2

Massachusetts, like most of the United States, has been in a woeful state of denial about the way its medical system handles the end of life. Too often, doctors shy away from frank discussions with terminally ill patients about their options — from continuing treatment, to palliative care, to some combination of both. Worse, society is so scared of such conversations — so conflicted about how far doctors should go in declaring a patient’s condition to be terminal, so reluctant to ever give up hope — that many insurers, including Medicare, don’t even cover the cost of an end-of-life conversation. Instead, they keep plowing money into treatments, while too many lives end in hospital beds, after unnecessarily painful side effects from unsuccessful drugs and devices.

Now, like a clanging wake-up call, comes the Question 2 “death with dignity” ballot initiative, which would establish procedures under which doctors could prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients. It draws heavily on the experiences of the two states that allow so-called physician-assisted suicide, Oregon and Washington. But it’s not, in itself, an answer to the far deeper question of how to help patients make end-of-life decisions.

Even in Oregon, which first approved physician-assisted suicide in 1994, only 71 people took advantage of it last year. Most were cancer patients. But many other dying patients, from those with degenerative physical conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease to those with mental deterioration from Alzheimer’s and other conditions, weren’t eligible because they couldn’t satisfy both the requirement of mental fitness and the ability to administer the drugs themselves.

And rather than bring society to a consensus on how to approach the end of life, Question 2 adds new and divisive questions to the mix: Should doctors actually help people die more quickly, rather than merely withhold treatment? Does such a regimen serve to weaken society’s belief that lives — even those of the seriously ill, or severely disabled — have value and are worth living?

Such questions draw on individual beliefs and morals, and defy practical analysis. Reasonable people can disagree passionately about Question 2, but a yes vote would not serve the larger interests of the state. Rather than bring Massachusetts closer to an agreed-upon set of procedures for approaching the end of life, it would be a flashpoint and distraction — the maximum amount of moral conflict for a very modest gain.

Instead, Massachusetts should commit itself to a rigorous exploration of end-of-life issues, with the goal of bringing the medical community, insurers, religious groups, and state policy makers into agreement on how best to help individuals handle terminal illnesses and die on their own terms.

Most importantly, patients need a realistic assessment of their disease, its prognosis, and the range of treatment options before them. Access to palliative care, psychiatric therapy, and hospice nurses are already covered by Medicare and most insurers. Such services may sound elaborate, but are actually far less costly than the intensive care that so often attends last-ditch treatments.

Physician-assisted suicide should be the last option on the table, to be explored in a thorough legislative process only after the state guarantees that all its patients have access to all the alternatives, including palliative care. Question 2, which would require that two licensed physicians confirm that patients have less than six months to live but are competent to make their own decisions, has drawn the opposition of the Massachusetts Medical Society, which argues that physicians shouldn’t be put in the position of ending people’s lives.

Further, the society argues, physician-assisted suicide is unnecessary in light of patients’ “right to refuse lifesaving treatment, and to have adequate pain relief, including hospice and palliative sedation.” The medical society’s position is reasonable, but too few patients get the information necessary to assert those rights. It’s up to the state’s physicians to take the lead in making sure that patients are aware of their options and take full advantage of them; all available evidence suggests that many more would do so, if only they had the proper information and encouragement.

Then, and only then, would the need for physician-assisted suicide become apparent. If the process of dying becomes more manageable, more dignified, and more comfortable, then fewer patients would seek to hasten it along. Doctors would be spared a vexing set of decisions. The seriousness with which the state is approaching Question 2 is, in itself, an indictment of the current state of end-of-life care. More than a cry for physician-assisted suicide, it’s a plea for greater dignity at the end of life. And that request, at least, should be answered.


What about do no harm?: Globe Columnist on Assisted Suicide

October 20, 2012

There were two excellent columns in the Boston Globe this past week about the topic of assisted suicide–one by Jeff Jacoby and one by Liz Walker.  Both bear reading in their entirety and sharing with others.  A lot of people, including Catholics, still think if a relative is suffering and nearing death, assisted suicide is a good thing.  Anyone who reads this column by Jeff Jacoby or the one by Liz Walker will probably come away thinking differently.  Here is most of the Jacoby column:

What about do no harm?
Suicide is not health care, and prescribing death is not a doctor’s role
by Jeff Jacoby

If Hippocrates, the “father of Western medicine,” were alive today, would he favor Question 2, the Massachusetts ballot initiative to authorize doctor-prescribed suicide?

Presumably not: The celebrated code of medical ethics that bears his name, which physicians for centuries took an oath to uphold, flatly forbids assisted suicide. “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked,” the Hippocratic oath avows, “nor will I advise such a plan.”

Some things never change, and one of them is the beguiling idea that doctors should be able to help patients kill themselves when incurable disease makes their lives unbearable. The advocates of Question 2 speak feelingly of the anguish of the terminally ill, suffering from awful symptoms that will only grow worse, and desperate to avoid the agonies to come. Not all of those agonies involve physical pain: Even worse for many people is the loss of autonomy, the mortifying collapse of bowel and bladder control, the intense unwillingness to be a burden to others, the existential despair of just waiting for death.

Question 2’s supporters call their proposal the “Death with Dignity Act.” As a matter of compassion and respect, they argue, we should allow dying patients to choose an early death when they decide their suffering is more than they can endure. “People have control over their lives,” says Dr. Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and lead petitioner of the Massachusetts ballot measure. “They ought to have control over their deaths.”

There is nothing new about this contention. The claim that assisted suicide can be an appropriate aspect of patient care, especially when the alternative is drawn-out misery inexorably ending in death, has been made since antiquity. Hippocrates heard the arguments too; then as now they exerted an undeniable emotional pull. There is a reason the Hippocratic oath obliged new doctors to stand firm against it.

Civilized societies do not encourage people to commit suicide, or seek ways to make it easier for them to do so. Individuals may choose, out of pain or heartache or hopelessness, to end their lives; tragically, thousands of Americans do so every year. But “tragically” is the operative word. A libertarian purist might insist that human beings have the right to dispose of their lives as they see fit. That doesn’t change the fundamental principle that life is precious and suicide is a tragedy.

Only a moral cretin yells “Jump!” to the man on the high bridge who wants to end it all. No matter how compelling and genuinely desperate that man’s reasons are — even if he is suffering from an incurable disease, with just months to live and only physical pain, nausea, and the loss of bodily control awaiting him — we don’t seek ways to facilitate his suicide. On the contrary, we seek ways to avert it. “High bridges often have signs encouraging troubled individuals to seek help rather than jump,” writes Greg Pfundstein in an essay at Public Discourse, the Witherspoon Institute’s online journal. “Suicide hotlines are open 24 hours a day because we hope to prevent as many suicides as possible.”

Question 2 would turn that premise inside out. Massachusetts voters aren’t just being asked to authorize doctors to prescribe fatal drugs for the terminally ill. They are being asked to endorse a view that our ethical culture at its best has always abhorred: that certain lives aren’t worth living. That there are times when people should jump — indeed, that there is nothing wrong with making it easier for them to do so.

Question 2’s provisions are highly arbitrary, as even its proponents acknowledge. It allows only one kind of suicide to be prescribed: drugs that can be swallowed, but not a lethal injection — let alone a bullet or a noose. It requires a prognosis of no more than six months to live.

Why such capricious line-drawing? Because, says Angell, that is the only way to make assisted suicide “politically acceptable.” Her candor is admirable. But it doesn’t extend to Question 2, which provides that death certificates for patients who commit doctor-prescribed suicide will falsely list the underlying disease as the cause of death.

Suicide is not health care, and prescribing death is no role for a doctor. Hippocrates would reject Question 2. Massachusetts voters should too.


Commercial: Oppose Physician Assisted Suicide (Rational)

October 17, 2012

The first television, Internet and radio commercials are out from the Committee Against Assisted Suicide, whose PR campaign is being run by Rasky Baerlein.  These started running this week.

Click here for the first radio ad.

Though BCI does not exactly hold Rasky Baerlein in the highest regard for reasons covered here before (and their management ranks are filled with former Joe Biden campaign people), we think these ads–clearly intended to appeal a secular audience–are well-done.

We need to defeat this evil ballot measure, so spread the word about the ads to friends and family members.


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