Random election thoughts

I voted in the high school gymnasium in my little town with my wife and son.  It was my son’s first presidential election.  Had to wait in line half an hour–the longest I’ve ever had to wait, I believe.  I approve of mail-in ballots and disapprove of multi-hour waits, but there is something very uplifting about waiting in line with your neighbors to perform your civic duty.  Alas, my (affluent) little town went for both Romney and Scott Brown, which made me feel a little less kindly towards my neighbors.

I work in the next town over from Belmont, where Mitt Romney resides.  One of my co-workers had just voted in Belmont when Romney arrived to vote, and the Secret Service cleared out everyone who had been in line for half an hour, so Romney could vote in privacy.  This didn’t win him any friends.  Belmont went for Obama.

To follow the election, I watched TV, mostly with the sound muted.  I followed my Twitter feed on my iPhone, and I consulted my favorite web site on my iPad.  How did I manage in the old days?

Elizabeth Warren, of course, defeated Scott Brown for the Senate.  Scott Brown gave a rambling but pleasant concession speech.  Brown has bobbed along on the currents of history for a couple of years, unable to become the master of events.  He won because he ran against a bad candidate at a time when the Tea Party was riding high.  He lost in a presidential election year in a highly Democratic state against a strong candidate.  He had to go negative against Warren, which made him look small, and he never had a good answer for why we should send him back to Washington and risk having the Republicans take over the Senate.  He just never made himself that important.  But he retains a lot of good will, and if John Kerry becomes Secretary of State, he would be a favorite to win Kerry’s seat — which probably makes it less likely that Kerry will become Secretary of State.

Unlike Brown’s, Mitt Romney’s concession speech was short and quite eloquent.  Unlike Brown, he didn’t talk about how he was going to keep fighting for the little guy — he didn’t talk about policy at all.  How could he, when it was so clear that he had no particular policies he wanted to fight for?  And, unlike Brown, he has no electoral base, no residual good will to call upon.  The pundits I watched spent a few minutes saying nice things about him before the speech, but now he’s gone, and I can’t imagine that he’ll be back.  Like Michael Dukakis (the other Massachusetts governor who ran for president), he’ll fade quickly into history.

Catholics backed Obama over Romney 50-48, despite the warnings of many bishops.  That’s a lot of people risking eternal damnation.

In my one election prediction, I figured that physician-assisted suicide would go down to a narrow defeat in Massachusetts, despite being initially very popular.  I was right!  The anti-suicide folks had a 5-1 spending advantage, plus media support, and that was enough to change enough minds.  I would not have anticipated that medical marijuana would win so easily, however.

Finally, here is the best election story I came across:

“I was filling out the form as were an elderly couple sitting at a nearby table,” said Houston on Tuesday. “His wife, who was helping him fill out the ballot, asked him a couple of questions but he didn’t respond. She screamed for help and I went over to see what I could do.”

Houston laid the victim on the floor and went to work.

“He was dead,” Houston said. “He had no heartbeat and he wasn’t breathing. I started CPR, and after a few minutes, he revived and started breathing again. He knew his name and his wife’s name.”

What happened next astounded Houston and the victim’s wife.

“The first question he asked was ‘Did I vote?'”

He did vote.  But I like it that we don’t find out who he voted for.

Death with Dignity

Massachusetts has a “Death with Dignity” or “Assisted Suicide” ballot question this year.  The discussion about it didn’t get much oxygen for a while, with the focus on the presidential and senatorial election here.  But now we’re seeing the ads run on both sides, and the Globe has an article about it this morning.  The Ballotpedia article I linked to above gives the details of the procedure, which involves a diagnosis of six months or fewer to live, confirmed by two separate physicians, two separate requests fifteen days apart, and confirmation that the patient is mentally capable of making the decision.

From what I can tell, the ballot question has run a predictable course.  Polling shows people strongly in favor of it.  But now most religious groups and professional medical associations have come out against it, as have the Globe and the Herald.  The opposition appears to have much more money to spend, and I expect the measure will probably lose.

The religious argument against it is, of course, that life is a gift from God and it’s not up to the patient or the physician to decide when to end it.  Well, OK, if that’s what you believe, don’t do it.  But why prevent others, with different beliefs, from acting differently?  In this sense, the religious argument against assisted suicide goes further than it does for abortion, where a second life is at stake.

Here are some medical arguments.

  • The doctor’s role is to heal, not to harm.  Well, OK, but I have the same response as I had to the religious argument: If you don’t want to participate in assisted suicide, don’t.  Don’t prevent others with different beliefs from doing so.
  • Medicine isn’t an exact science, and who’s to say that any particular diagnosis will turn out to be wrong?  Obviously the bill includes a safeguard against misdiagnosis, but miracles happen.  The question is whether we should forbid all patients from taking their own lives because of the possibility of miracles or misdiagnosis.
  • The patient could be depressed. I don’t really know what to say about this one except: well, duh!  Maybe a skilled clinician can sort out someone who has a medical case of depression from someone who is just depressed because, you know, he’s going to die in a few months of a horrible disease that will rob him of all his mental and physical abilities and cause him incredible agony.  I personally would find that difficult to sort out.
  • The patient could be pressured into killing himself.  To avoid expensive medical bills, for example, and preserve the estate for the heirs.  This makes some sense to me.  On the other hand, two doctors must verify that the patient has the mental capability to make health care decisions.  This isn’t really that much different from the current situation, where the patient gets to say whether or not heroic lifesaving measures should be taken on his behalf.  The problem to me is the pressure, not the financial concerns themselves–seems to me that, in a country where healthcare costs can easily ruin a family, you can’t ever just ignore them.

This kind of issue is hard, morally and practically.  For me, the best argument in favor of the ballot question is the relief it will give a lot of people just knowing that the option is there if they need it.  But, as in Oregon, relatively few people will actually end up taking advantage of it.