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California Becomes Fifth State to Allow Assisted Suicide

John Burger - published on 06/09/16 - updated on 06/08/17

Catholic Church prays for elderly, disabled and terminally ill as "End of Life Option" takes effect

California is the latest state to allow physician-assisted suicide, bringing the total number of US states where the practice is legal to five.

The nation’s most populous state passed the assisted suicide bill in 2015, and that law takes effect today. The “End of Life Option Act,” which was pushed by the assisted-suicide advocacy group Compassion & Choices, allows the practice only for mentally competent adults.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles held nine days of prayer and fasting for the elderly, disabled and terminally ill to herald the beginning of legal assisted suicide in the Golden State. Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell began the novena June 1 when he celebrated Mass at Santa Teresita, a home for seniors in need of assisted living and nursing services, Catholic News Agency reported.

“This is a challenge to all of us, especially to all of us who have faith,” the bishop said, “to teach always about the infinite value of each human life.” He said the passing of the End of Life Option Act is a “failure of our love.”

Passage of the law got a boost from 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who in 2014 was a California resident with an incurable brain tumor. Maynard moved to Oregon to be able to legally take lethal drugs.

With the help Compassion & Choices, Maynard’s death became a highly publicized event.

Besides Oregon, Washington and Vermont have also passed assisted suicide bills. In Montana, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that assisted suicide is legal under the state’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.

California’s bill goes into effect just three days after Canada missed the deadline to enact a court-ordered assisted suicide law due to resistance in Parliament. Bills modeled on the California law have been submitted in 18 states and the District of Columbia. New York — where similar legislation passed a health committee in the state assembly in May — could be the next “significant win,” said Compassion & Choices political director Charmaine Manansala. A bill similar to California’s was withdrawn before a committee vote in the Maryland Assembly this spring after a coalition of religious and secular activists lobbied against it.

Although the California law allows physicians, pharmacies and health care systems to “opt out” on conscience grounds, Matt Whitaker, Compassion & Choices state director for Oregon and California, said the organization will now work to ensure access in a state where the two largest faith-based health care systems, Catholic hospitals and Adventist Care hospitals, have announced they will not participate.

The Rev. Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, told Religion News Service that although the law specifies that the “option” may not be called “suicide,” that doesn’t mean it eventually won’t lead to more people choosing death — by this law or other means. It acts in the culture to “normalize” the notion in ways that politicians can’t control, Mouw said.

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