Moral Low Ground


Christian Opposition Helps Kill California ‘Right-to-Die’ Bill—Again

The touching case of Brittany Maynard, the young, terminally ill California woman who moved to Oregon to legally end her own life, raised nationwide awareness of "right-to-die" issues.

The touching case of Brittany Maynard, the young, terminally ill California woman who moved to Oregon to legally end her own life, raised nationwide awareness of “right-to-die” issues.

Facing fierce opposition from the Catholic church and other religious groups, California lawmakers have abandoned a bill that would have allowed terminally ill patients to legally end their own lives.

Hours before a scheduled vote in the state Assembly Health Committee, California lawmakers declined to present the legislation, SB 128—also known as the End of Life Option Act, because it did not have enough support to advance, the Associated Press reports.

The bill would have authorized physicians to help terminally ill California patients end their suffering if they received a prognosis of six months or less to live from two doctors, submitted an oral request and two requests in writing to a physician at least 15 days apart, and were determined to possess the mental competency to make life-or-death decisions about their own treatment options.

The measure was inspired by Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s landmark Death With Dignity Act and end her life two months before a similar bill was introduced in her home state.

In a series of touching videos, Maynard pressed lawmakers to legally allow “death with dignity.”

“There is a difference between a person who is dying and a person who is suicidal,” Maynard explained. “I do not want to die, I am dying… To have control of my own mind, to go with dignity, is less terrifying. When I look at both options I have to die, I feel this is far more humane. Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice?”

Aid-in-dying advocates had hoped the publicity generated by Maynard’s case, as well as the recent decision by the 40,000-member California Physicians Association to drop its opposition to assisted euthanasia, would turn the tide in favor of approval. But just as they played an key role in defeating a similar California “right-to-die” bill in 2007, religious groups, led by the Catholic church, have helped defeat SB128 in the belief that allowing terminally ill patients to forever relieve their agony goes against the will of ‘God,’ the Abrahamic deity figure whose existence has never been proved.

Particularly strong opposition to SB128 came from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which despite being battered by a massive child sex abuse scandal involving hundreds of clergymen and victims and a record $660 million settlement, remains an influential force in local politics. The power of Los Angeles-area Catholics was a crucial factor in defeating the measure, as even some liberal Democrat lawmakers took a conservative stance against it.

“This has been a hard debate and an emotional debate. But I believe the members of the Assembly Health Committee today made the right decision for California, and especially for the poor and most vulnerable members of our society,” Archbishop José H. Gomez, head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said in a statement after SB128 was dropped.

“I pray that we can come together as people of good will to seek the solutions—in medical training, geriatrics, palliative treatment and other areas—that can truly improve the compassionate care of terminally ill patients and those at the end of life,” Gomez added.

In the United States, only Washington, Oregon, Vermont, and New Mexico have passed “death with dignity” laws. In Montana, a 2009 court ruling established that doctors are protected if they prescribe lethal medications as requested by terminally ill patients.

Internationally, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium allow some form of assisted suicide. In 2013, Belgian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to extend euthanasia rights to allow terminally ill children to ask for and receive permission to end their lives under certain circumstances. The Dutch Pediatric Association is calling on lawmakers to follow in their neighbor’s footsteps and allow children younger than 12 enduring unbearable suffering to have the right to die.

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