NRL News

Bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide now on the desk of California Gov. Jerry Brown

by | Sep 14, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

California Gov. Jerry Brown

California Gov. Jerry Brown

It would be impossible to miss the diametrically opposite results that took place the same day 5,000 miles apart. Or their potential impact.

On Friday in England, the House of Commons overwhelmingly defeated an assisted suicide measure on a vote of 330 to 118. Labour MP Rob Marris’ Assisted Dying Bill was the “eleventh attempt in twelve years to legalise assisted suicide through British Parliaments,” according to Dr. Peter Saunders.

Dr. Saunders believes the vote “should settle this matter for a decade.”

By contrast in Sacramento, the California state Senate voted 23-14 to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide, That vote came a few days after the state Assembly voted 43-34 in favor of “The End of Life Options Bill.” Proponents believe it can change the dynamic of the physician-assisted suicide debate which has been characterized as one defeat after another for the likes of “Compassion & Choices.”

While signaling concern over the way the bill was acted on, Gov. Jerry Brown has not said whether he will sign the bill. If he does, California would become the fourth state to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide. (Additionally, the Supreme Court of Montana has interpreted its law to make “consent” of the victim a defense in cases of homicide.)

The bill had stalled once this year, but proponents reintroduced the bill during a special session on health care financing called by Brown to address cost savings for the state’s MediCal program.

Brittany Maynard

Brittany Maynard

Besides legislative legerdemain, there were two other key factors in the bill’s passage. The “assisted death” of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who was ‘forced” to move to Oregon because California has a law against assisted suicide. Her family has been featured prominently in the campaign to pass the bill.

In addition, the California Medical Association changed its position to take a “neutral” stance on passage of physician-assisted legislation.

Critics argued in vain a position that was pivotal in England–the danger such bills present to the vulnerable. Here’s the take of Californians Against Assisted Suicide, a coalition of disability rights, healthcare, civil rights, and patient advocacy organizations

“[R]egarding this policy, we all know that ‘choice’ is a myth in the context of our unjust health care reality. End-of-life treatment options are already limited for millions of people—constrained by poverty, disability discrimination, and other obstacles. Adding this so-called “choice” into our dysfunctional healthcare system will push people into cheaper lethal options. There is no assurance everyone will be able to choose treatment over suicide; no material assistance for families of limited means who are struggling to care for loved ones; no meaningful protection from abusive family members or caregivers.”

“If assisted suicide is made legal, it quickly becomes just another form of treatment and as such, will always be the cheapest option. This bill offers no requirement for mental health evaluation, doesn’t protect anyone from the subtle cost of treatment pressures or feelings of being a burden. In collaboration with groups representing people living with disabilities, cancer doctors, people advocating for the poor and uninsured and faith based organizations we will do everything we can to carry that message and ask the Governor Brown to veto this bill.”

Moreover, “The legislation effectively paints a target on the back of each and every elderly and disabled person in our state,” said state Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, paraphrasing an elder abuse advocate. “The promises and assurances of the safeguards and protections from the representatives of those in favor are based in innocent ignorance.”

Proponents were ecstatic. They have been on a long, long losing streak, as NRL News Today has explained in multiple posts.

For example, HealthDay News’s Dennis Thompson put it this way:

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill into law, it could have a significant impact on the right-to-die debate in the United States. Given the size of its population — nearly 40 million people — and its influence, California often sets the tone for potentially groundbreaking issues.

Marilyn Golden

Marilyn Golden

With regard to its possible influence on other states, Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices [the former Hemlock Society], noted, “I think lawmakers will be more comfortable voting for aid-in-dying, knowing that a big jurisdiction like California has already done so.” She added,” It’s hard for lawmakers sometimes to think about being the pioneers in a social change movement. It will be easier for them to feel that they are one more state coming along in the assimilation of a new medical practice.”

The bill was sold as being modeled after Oregon–which, in 1994, became the first state in the nation to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide–only replete with even more “safeguards.”

But Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, noted that people who are depressed or being pressured to take their own lives can “doctor shop” until they find a physician willing to sign off on their lethal prescription.

“It’s common knowledge in Oregon that if your doctor says no, you can call Compassion & Choices to find a doctor who says yes,” Golden said.

Categories: Assisted Suicide