Here’s how Americans voted on key 2018 ballot measures

Voters decided on major changes on issues like marijuana, abortion and Medicaid.

  • Alabama and West Virginia passed amendments that would effectively outlaw abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.
  • Medical marijuana is now legal in Missouri and Utah, while Michigan legalized recreational marijuana.
  • Missouri and Arkansas will raise the minimum wage significantly over the next several years.

The 2018 midterm elections were marked by massive voter turnout, a record number of female candidates, and no shortage of controversial tactics from state and federal politicians. On Tuesday night it was clear that the results would be mixed, with no clear "blue wave" or "red wall" dominating the country's political landscape. Democrats managed to capture the House of Representatives while Republicans gained even more seats in the Senate, a result many had broadly predicted.

At the state level, many voters chose to pass landmark amendments and measures on issues like abortion, Medicaid and marijuana. Here's how the country voted on some of the most significant measures on state ballots in the 2018 midterms.

​Abortion

Three states voted on abortion-related ballot measures this year.

Alabama passed Amendment 2, which bans funding for abortions and grants constitutional rights to unborn children. The amendment also states there are no constitutional protections for a woman's right to an abortion.

West Virginia voters also passed an amendment to ban public funding for abortion and, like Alabama, declare no constitutional protections for abortion. The amendment states that "nothing in this constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion," including no exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother.

Both amendments would effectively outlaw abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Voters in Oregon voted against a measure that would've prohibited publicly funded health care programs from covering abortion.

Transgender rights


Massachusetts voters chose to uphold a state law that protects transgender people from discrimination in public places, like locker rooms and bathrooms. The state had already passed legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity in the workplace or for housing, but those protections didn't allow, say, a transgender person to use the gendered bathroom of their choice.

Critics of the law say it would endanger people by providing predators with easier access to public spaces.

"We are deeply disappointed that the people of Massachusetts will continue to be forced to sacrifice their privacy and safety in the name of political correctness," said Andrew Beckwith, a legal analyst for No On 3- Keep MA Safe, which opposed the measure.

However, there have been no recorded instances of sexual predators taking advantage of such laws in the 19 states that have already passed them.

​Marijuana

Three states legalized marijuana in some form.

Michigan moved to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older, becoming the first Midwestern state to do so. It's now legal for residents in Michigan to grow up to 12 plants.

In Missouri, voters faced three medical marijuana measures on the ballot this year. They chose to pass Amendment 2, which legalizes medical marijuana with a 4% sales tax, the funds of which will be used mostly to aid military veterans. Those with a prescription will also be allowed to grow plants at home.

Medical marijuana also passed in Utah, where patients with physician approval can purchase two ounces of marijuana from a dispensary during a two-week period. Residents who live farther than 100 miles from a licensed dispensary will be allowed to grow plants at home.

Minimum wage


Missouri and Arkansas, two red states, both passed incremental increases to the minimum wage: Missouri will raise the wage from $7.85 to $12 by 2023, Arkansas will raise it from $8.50 to $11 by 2021.

​Medicaid expansion

Four states had ballot measures on whether to expand or continue expanding Medicaid. Voters in Utah, Nebraska and Idaho moved to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, including to individuals younger than 65 who live significantly below the poverty line.

Montana voted to expand Medicaid in 2015, but the measure came with a sunset clause that expired at the end of 2018. Yesterday, the state voted not to continue expansion funding.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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