California Assisted Suicide Bill Could Shape National Debate
Legislation (AB 374) to legalize physician-assisted suicide in California could "prompt many other states to follow suit and perhaps even prepare the way for a national law,"
USA Today reports.
California "is closer than ever" to passing legislation that would permit doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill patients who are deemed to be mentally capable by a psychiatrist and have been told they have six months or less to live, according to USA Today. The bill is based on a 1994 law passed in Oregon.
Since Oregon's law took effect in 1997, 292 state residents have legally committed suicide, 87% of which were cancer patients in 2006, according to a report last month by the state's Public Health Division.
California's large population could mean that more than 500 state residents would commit legal suicide annually, according to state Assembly member Anthony Adams (R), an opponent of the bill.
Tim Rosales, spokesperson for Californians Against Assisted Suicide, said that Oregon statistics show that less than half of physician-assisted suicide patients cited pain as their main reasoning, while 96% cited a loss of autonomy and joy and 75% cited loss of dignity, which are "all clear indicators of depression -- indicators for anyone to commit suicide." Adams said, "It is about giving doctors the legal right to prescribe medicine whose only purpose is to kill people. This is an immoral act, and it has no place being legislated."
Assembly member Patty Berg (D), sponsor of the bill, said, "We should be allowed to live or die according to our own moral code. The opposition comes from a very small segment of society that believes it has a ... better morality than the rest of us." Berg says the bill must pass through the Assembly Appropriations Committee and believes it will go to a full Assembly vote before the end of April (Welch, USA Today, 4/11).
Summaries of recent opinion pieces addressing AB 374 appear below.
- George Skelton, Los Angeles Times: Citing arguments for and against the California measure in his "Capitol Journal" column in the Times, Skelton concludes that people with terminal illnesses "should be allowed to choose for ourselves when to cut our losses and cash in" (Skelton, Los Angeles Times, 4/9).
- Wesley Smith, San Francisco Chronicle: Opponents to bills that would legalize physician-assisted suicide are a "strange political bedfellow alliance that bridges the usual liberal versus conservative, secular versus religious, and pro-choice versus anti-abortion disputes that divide the country," according to a Chronicle opinion piece by Smith -- a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. Smith writes that legalizing the practice "opens the door to an epochal shift in the way society perceives dying, disables and other suffering people" (Smith, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/8).