Yesterday, the California State Assembly moved a dangerous assisted suicide bill out of Assembly and on to the Senate by a vote of 43-34. The bill is expected to see success in the Senate; whether or not Governor Jerry Brown would veto the bill remains unclear.
The legislation was catalyzed by the highly publicized suicide of 29-year-old assisted suicide campaigner Brittany Maynard last year. Maynard was a native of California and had to move to Oregon, one of a handful of states in which assisted suicide is currently legal, to avail herself of the Life-ending option. Maynard’s story was used to craft an emotional appeal to California, America, and other countries, increasing positive sentiment towards the legalization of suicide. C&C, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, the well-funded organization behind Maynard’s publicity campaign, published an agenda-saturated obituary after Maynard’s suicide, saying:
Brittany chose to make a well thought out and informed choice to Die With Dignity in the face of such a terrible, painful, and incurable illness. She moved to Oregon to pass away in a little yellow house she picked out in the beautiful city of Portland. Oregon is a place that strives to protect patient rights and autonomy; she wished that her home State of California had also been able to provide terminally ill patients with the same choice. Brittany chose to speak out and advocate for this patient right and option, which she felt is an informed choice that should be made available to all terminally ill patients across our great nation.
While proponents of California’s bill offered little more than an emotional appeal to support their belief that assisted suicide should be legalized in the state, disability advocates and Pro-Life groups repeatedly pointed to the dangerous manipulation of personal autonomy arguments in favor of suicide during impassioned hearings. Kathleen Buckley Domingo of the archdiocesan Office of Life, Justice and Peace stated that the measure was “an effort by wealthy elites in California looking for autonomy. But the poor will suffer the effects of the measure most gravely. Assisted suicide is always the cheapest and easiest option.”
The California bill is modeled after Oregon’s original law legalizing the action to intentionally cause the death of a patient. Initial efforts to pass the California law failed in July, and only saw success this week because a special session of the California legislature provided the opportunity to reintroduce the bill. Advocates of assisted suicide who testified view the act as an expression of personal autonomy in the painful turmoil of terminal illness. But, as rosy-sounding as absolute autonomy is, their view is a dangerously myopic approach to so-called “death with dignity.” Legalizing suicide targets vulnerable patients instead of empowering them. Typically, medical and psychiatric professionals see suicidal ideation in a patient as a symptom of clinical depression or other mental health conditions. Standard medical practice is to offer suicidal patients Life-affirming medical and psychological attention, not allow them to put their Lives in jeopardy.
Respecting the autonomy of a patient has never been viewed as a right afforded to suicidal patients to cause their own death. That is why the United States is observing National Suicide Prevention Week. Meanwhile, the very same week that anti-suicide campaigns were launched across the country, the California State Legislature has put vulnerable patients in danger by working to legalize assisted suicide. This destructive moral confusion is not isolated to California alone. Currently, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington State permit assisted suicide. Such disregard for Life must not be permitted to escalate.