February 17, 2005 | Print-friendly version
Physician-assisted suicide advocates predict California this year will become the second state in the union after Oregon to make it legal for doctors to prescribe lethal drug doses to dying patients.
But nothing in life is certain and since the Oregon law took effect in 1997, opposition by state medical associations and activism by disability rights groups have tilted the balance away from passage elsewhere in the U.S. Both factors will be in play in California.
In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court this spring will decide whether to hear Bush Administration arguments that Oregons Death With Dignity Act violates federal controlled substances law.
The California Catholic Conference has made derailing physician-assisted suicide its top legislative priority this year. It is joining with the Alliance for Catholic Healthcare and other allies to fight it. The California Medical Association and twelve disability rights groups, including Not Dead Yet, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, and the National Council on Disability, also oppose physician-assisted suicide.
"Of course its cheaper to provide a $35 lethal prescription rather than take care of someone," said Carol Hogan, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, noting millions of Californians dont have health care insurance and that end of life care or any serious illness can cost $100,000 or more.
Previous California assisted suicide efforts failed in 1992 and in 1999. The 1992 legislation included euthanasia.
Pope John Paul II specifically addressed euthanasia in his Lenten address January 27, 2005, in Rome, urging Catholics to reject "a certain mentality which considers our elderly brothers and sisters practically useless when they find themselves confronted by reduced capacities by the inconveniences of age or illness."
"The life of man is a precious gift, which we must love and defend at all of its stages," the 84-year-old pontiff said.
To combat the ongoing assisted suicide campaign, the Catholic Conference in 2002 created a web-site, "Embracing Our Dying." It states, "We believe that a dying person's request for assisted suicide is actually a cry for help coming from a fear of helplessness and a fear of abandonment."
Bill sponsors, Democratic State Assembly Members Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine, held two public hearings in late January and early February. In addition to predicting passage by the Democrat-controlled legislature, Berg expressed hope that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and pro-choice Catholic, would sign it. Schwarzenegger has not said what he would do if the bill passed.
While efforts in other states so far have failed since Oregons law took effect, assisted suicide legislation is introduced regularly around the country. In Hawaii, lawmakers killed an assisted suicide bill in committee in early February, but legislation modeled on the Oregon law is under consideration in Vermont and Arizona.
In 1994, Oregon's state medical association took a neutral stance and assisted suicide opponents were portrayed as shoving their religious beliefs onto otherswhich opponents credit with aiding its passage.
Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.
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