Physician-assisted suicide ballot question stirs controversy in Mass.


BOSTON -- A group opposed to a ballot question that would allow terminally ill patients to self-administer life-ending drugs has returned a $250,000 donation from a conservative Mississippi-based organization with anti-gay views, but which describes itself as pro-family.

The American Family Association was the largest single donor to the Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide, which has raised more than $900,000 to launch a campaign against the question, which will appear on the November ballot.

A committee spokesman told the Associated Press on Friday that the organization wanted to make sure that the debate remained focused on the ballot question.

Mark Horan said the agendas of the two groups are different and that voters deserve "a serious and vigorous debate" on the question, which is No. 2 on the ballot.

"The issue of physician assisted suicide is complex," Horan said in a statement. "The sole focus of the committee is the issue of physician assisted suicide. Returning the check to AFA is in the interests of more focused debate on Question 2."

A spokesman for American Family Association said he was unaware of the decision.

Patrick Vaughn, general counsel for the group, described the American Family Association as an evangelical group in favor of traditional marriage.

"We believe that homosexuality is sinful and unnatural and it’s not good for people," he said.

The association has been criticized by the Southern Poverty Law Center for what it calls the group’s extreme anti-gay views, including claims that equate homosexuality with pedophilia and arguments that the "homosexual agenda" will bring down American civilization. Among other activities, the association boycotts corporations it believes are too friendly to gay rights.

In August, Bryan Fischer, an official with the association, tweeted, "Why we need an Underground Railroad to deliver innocent children from same-sex households."

Vaughn said the group disputes the Southern Poverty Law Center’s characterization, calling it slander. Vaughn said Fischer was commenting on a lawsuit and "there was no advocacy of setting up of child-stealing networks."

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A spokesman for Dignity 2012, which supports the ballot question, criticized the initial decision to accept the donation, which was made in early July.

"Shame on them for taking this money in the first place," said Steve Crawford. "Rather than return it so it can be used to spread more prejudice and hate, they should donate it to Hospice of Massachusetts, where it will do some good," Crawford said in a statement.

The committee also has received large donations from several Catholic organizations, including $200,000 from the Knights of Columbus, and tens of thousands in donations from about two dozen Catholic dioceses from across the country.

The group also received about $175,000 from the conservative Washington D.C.-based American Principles Project. It had about $295,000 left in its account at the beginning of September.

Dignity 2012 reported collecting just over $302,000 this year and began September with nearly $64,000 left in its account.

The largest single donor to the group was the Portland, Oregon-based Death With Dignity National Center.

The group lists part of its mission as promoting laws that allow a terminally ill, mentally competent adult the right to request and receive a prescription to hasten death under certain specific safeguards.

Dignity 2012 also received hundreds of donations from individuals compared to Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide, which received just a handful of donations from individuals.

On Friday, the Massachusetts Medical Society announced it opposes the question. The society hasn’t donated to the committee.

The question is one of three on the Massachusetts ballot in November, including a measure to legalize the medical use of marijuana and another that would require car makers to provide independent repair shops with access to their diagnostic systems.

State lawmakers approved a compromise bill on the car repair question and both sides are now urging voters to reject the so-called "Right to Repair" question.


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