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California Legislature Passes Assisted Suicide Legislation

A. Currell CC
Hospital Room
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Opponents rue fast track of new bill

A day after World Suicide Prevention Day, the California Senate sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill allowing physician-assisted suicide in the Golden State.

It was a move that took many people by surprise, introduced under the pretext of a special legislative session on health care financing convened by the governor and in the same year that a similar bill died in committee.

It is not yet clear whether Gov. Brown will sign the bill, according to the New York Times:

The California bill, which passed Friday in the State Senate by a vote of 23-14, will now go to Gov. Jerry Brown, who will roughly triple access to doctor-assisted suicide across the country if he signs it. Mr. Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, has given little indication of his intentions.

On Wednesday, the state Assembly passed AB X2-15, the End of Life Option Act, by a vote of 42-33. The bill allows physicians to prescibe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it. It requires that patients be able to take the medication themselves, that two doctors approve, that the patient submit two oral requests at least 15 days apart, plus a written request, and that there will be two witnesses.

Opponents argue that many terminally-ill diagnoses turn around. A six-month terminal diagnosis, which is what the bill requires to qualify for the right-to-die, is not long enough to determine an individual’s improvement, argued Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson.

According to  Catholic News Agency, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-Rialto, opposed the bill on the same grounds. Her son was near death with an infection, but when doctors suggested she let him go, she refused. He remained on life support and eventually came off of it, and is now married and a father. Brown commented, “Doctor’s don’t know everything.”

During Senate debate Friday afternoon, Ted Gaines, a Republican representing El Dorado Hills, said the “unintended consequence” of the bill could be pushing the elderly and weak “out of this world…. Society will take a different view of life.”

Opponents also charged that the bill was fast-tracked.

“The only financing question in the debate dealt with how inexpensive the suicide drugs would be compared to other costs,” noted the California Catholic Conference.

The speed with which the bill came up and went through the legislative process in California worried pro-life leaders on the other side of the country.

“If California legalizes asssisted suicide it will significantly harm our continuing effort to keep it out of Connecticut and to defeat it nationally,” said an emergency email from the Family Institute of Connecticut that was sent to supporters as the Senate was convening Friday.

That view was echoed by a leader on the other side of the issue, George Eighmey, vice president of Death With Dignity.

“If it becomes the law in California, that’s going to be very, very significant nationally,” Eighmey told the Times.

The California bill is modeled on the law in Oregon, with several notable changes, the Times noted. The California law would expire after 10 years and have to be re-approved.

But in spite of a requirement that a doctor would have to consult in private with a patient who wishes to die, low-income and underinsured patients would inevitably feel pressure to end their own lives in some cases, when the cost of continued treatment would be astronomical compared with the cost of a few lethal pills, said Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, director of the medical ethics program at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. Kheriaty, author of The Catholic Guide to Depression, pointed to a case in Oregon involving Barbara Wagner, a cancer patient who said that her insurance plan had refused to cover an expensive treatment but did offer to pay for “physician aid in dying.”