by Most Reverend James T. McHugh
Bishop of Rockville Centre
November 24, 2000
As you read this column, the question of who was elected President of the United States may still be disputed. Along with that, the final profile of Congress is still unsettled. Nonetheless, most other elective offices were filled and the nation is prepared to move ahead. Granted we will all have to work hard to achieve harmony and unity, but Americans are known to love their country and to overcome rancor and hostility.
Despite the temporary uncertainties, some important issues were addressed on Election Day that bear noting. First, in Maine the voters rejected an assisted suicide law. When originally introduced, public opinion seemed highly favorable. This is partially due to the fact that assisted suicide or "death-with-dignity" laws are always presented as ways to avoid a slow and painful death prolonged by modern technologies. In Maine, as elsewhere, people over time came to see that this is not the primary purpose or effect of these laws. Instead, such laws are a first step toward direct euthanasia, the deliberate killing of an elderly, disadvantaged or chronically ill person. And the decision is often not the patient's but that of someone else.
Rita Marker, Executive Director of the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, says that the demographics of Maine are like those of Oregon, the only state with an assisted suicide law. In effect, its voting profile is atypical. There are not a lot of poor or minorities who strongly oppose such laws. Maine was picked by the pro-euthanasia forces not because it had some special reason or need, but because it is a small state with an easily manageable media market. It's easier for the pro-euthanasia forces to control their message and direct it to a more liberal or permissive audience.
Dick Traynor of Maine Right to Life also makes the point that there is no nationwide movement for assisted suicide. Most of the funds used in the Maine effort came from outside the state, from organized advocacy groups.
Once again, the Church led the effort to defeat the Maine initiative. By effective preaching, use of diocesan and parish communications and some purchased TV, newspaper and radio spots, the message got out and the initial favorability melted away. As John Paul II has reminded us, these efforts at legalizing euthanasia are further evidence of the societal influence of the "culture of death."
On the positive side, there seems to be increasing support for laws providing information and education on palliative care. Hopefully, a federal law will move forward with the next Congress.
Another issue has to do with school vouchers. Here the outcome was not so positive. A number of initiatives for vouchers were defeated. This is unfortunate because public opinion seems favorable to some type of voucher program and the constitutional objections do not seem to prevent some initiatives. But the fact that vouchers may benefit parents and children who choose Catholic schools generates the latent anti-Catholicism in our culture. Add to this that the AFL-CIO has pledged to spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat vouchers. AFL-CIO is being pushed by the teachers' unions which are presently a strong force in the labor movement. I cannot believe that Catholic teachers in public schools, some of whom send their children to Catholic schools, are all that hostile to vouchers. But apparently they do not take an active role in setting policies for their union, and the leaders—pro-public schools and often antagonistic to Catholic concerns—control the process.
The weeks ahead will give us a new President. But there will still be issues such as those above that we as Catholics will have to promote and campaign for in the years ahead.