BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts ballot question that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill has been defeated by a narrow margin.
The measure voted on Tuesday was defeated 51 percent to 49 percent with 96 percent of precincts counted, and was the closest of the three questions on the Massachusetts ballot.
‘‘We believe the voters came to see this as a flawed approach to end of life care, lacking in the most basic safeguards,’’ Rosanne Bacon Meade, chairwoman of the Committee Against Assisted Suicide, said in a statement.
Religious, medical and disability rights groups fought the measure, saying it’s open to manipulation and relies on diagnoses that could be wrong.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, leaders of millions of Roman Catholics in the state, called the defeat the best outcome for the ‘‘common good.’’
‘‘It is my hope and prayer that the defeat of Question 2 will help all people to understand that for our brothers and sisters confronted with terminal illness we can do better than offering them the means to end their lives,’’ O'Malley said in a statement.
Patients’ rights groups and other supporters said the measure had effective safeguards, including prohibiting doctors from prescribing to depressed patients.
Death With Dignity, the group that supported the measure, conceded defeat early Wednesday.
A group spokesman pointed out that they were outspent 5-to-1 by opposition groups.
‘‘For the past year, the people of Massachusetts participated in an open and honest conversation about allowing terminally-ill patients the choice to end their suffering. The Death with Dignity Act offered the terminally-ill the right to make that decision for themselves, but regrettably, we fell short,’’ the statement said.
If the ballot question had passed, Massachusetts would have become the third state to allow terminally ill patients to get help from their doctors to end their lives with lethal doses of medication. Oregon and Washington already have legalized it.
Thirty-four states prohibit assisted suicide outright. Massachusetts and six other states banned it through legal precedent.
Supporters and those in opposition said they hoped the debate over the issue would continue.
‘‘We hope this marks the beginning of a real conversation about ways to improve end-of-life care in Massachusetts, which, as the nation’s health care capital, is well positioned to take the lead on this issue,’’ Meade said.