ASSISTED SUICIDE: AB 1592 Fight Pitted Grass-Roots Against Establishment, Lawyer Says
Reviewing the fight over the assisted-suicide bill in the Assembly this year, Wesley Smith, an attorney for the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, writes in The Weekly Standard that grass-roots activism was responsible for killing the measure. He notes that California "has always been the prize most avidly sought by assisted-suicide advocates," dating back to 1988, when proponents first began gathering signatures for a ballot initiative. This year, with a Democratic governor and Legislature, they finally "sensed the time was ripe to strike and win," and Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley) introduced AB 1592. But, Smith writes, "[T]he grass-roots coalition that had sprung up to oppose it had slowed the bill's progress to a crawl." When the Assembly Judiciary Committee heard the bill on April 20, opponents outnumbered supporters by a 5-1 margin. After a close vote in favor, opponents then held a vigil the week that the Appropriations Committee was scheduled to hear the bill. Disability-rights activist Diane Coleman said in contrast to the homogeneity of the assisted-suicide movement -- "white, well-off, well, and worried" -- opponents "look like America." Nevertheless, committee Chair Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) secured an 11-9 vote by misleading opponents on when the vote was to be taken, Smith writes, and manipulating the "committee membership ... undemocratically" with the assistance of Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles). The bill, however, was placed on inactive status after Aroner recognized she did not have 40 votes in the Assembly. Smith writes, "So now the fight is on for the hearts and minds of the California Assembly. It is democracy versus political maneuvering, grass roots versus establishment politicians, constituency activism versus capitol horse-trading." He concludes: "Proponents of AB 1592 claimed they wanted an open, democratic debate on one of the most controversial issues facing the country. But they didn't act like it. What they actually sought was to push assisted suicide quickly before anyone knew what was happening. Instead, they underestimated the power of bad public policy and underhanded political tactics to unify and motivate strange political bedfellows" (6/21 issue).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.