New Bill Removes Some Safeguards on CA’s Assisted Suicide Law

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When Governor Brown signed California’s assisted suicide law in 2015, proponents assured the bill’s detractors that the protections within the bill would protect poor, mentally ill, and disabled patients who were terminally ill from being pressured or manipulated into killing themselves. Plus doctors who objected would not be forced to participate. But now only four years later, the bill’s original author Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, now Senator Eggman (D-Stockton), is seeking to loosen the safeguards and change the conscience protections for health care providers who refuse to participate in killing their patients. The new bill, SB 380, will be heard this Wednesday in the Senate Health Committee

“Tragically, these efforts confirm the worst fears of patients’ rights advocates,” said Jonathan Keller, President of California Family Council. “Rather than safeguarding the terminally ill and medically fragile, this bill will weaken existing protections and further endanger innocent people. We should show vulnerable patients true compassion, not encourage them to kill themselves.” 

Those promoting California’s assisted suicide bill when it passed in 2015 were proud of the patient protections included in the bill. Sen. Bill Monning told KQED at the time, “I can assure you that the joint and co-authors on this bill … have endeavored to build in protections in this law that are stronger than the protections in any of the states where this has been practiced.” Currently, the Death with Dignity Center notes on their website FAQs, “Death with dignity statues contain a number of safeguards, protecting patients from abuse and coercion…the patient must make two oral requests, at least 15 days apart.” 

This year the messaging has changed.  Eggman now says the “13-step process” to provide patient safety has “become intolerable.” Besides that, religious-based hospitals have become a problem. During an online press conference for SB 380, put on by an assisted-suicide advocacy organization called Compassion and Choice, reporters were introduced to Tom Whaley from San Luis Obispo. Whaley shared the story of how his 42-year-old wife Christine was refused suicide drugs by a Catholic hospital where she was getting treatment for terminal cancer. He complained how she was forced to look for a suicide doctor all by herself and could only find one 200 miles away.

“It was awful,” Whaley explained. “Christine had fought so long to live. We never realized she would have to fight to die.”

The reason for the Catholic hospital refusal is explained on Compassion and Choice’s website. “Medical aid in dying ‘is not in alignment with’ the religious medical system’s ‘Common Values’ statement.” And this is true. Catholics believe killing patients is morally wrong.

According to the California Catholic Conference (CCC), there is a big difference between “killing” someone and “letting” someone die. “The Church teaches that human life is sacred because we are made in the ‘image and likeness’ of God, and that earthly life is a precious good, although not the ultimate good, which is eternal life,” says the CCC website. Assisted suicide “also fractures the relationship between patient and physician, when their role is changed to one who is to hasten dying intentionally rather than do all they can to alleviate all aspects of suffering.”

Eggman plans to deal with Catholic health providers, within SB 380, by forcing them to refer patients to an individual or organization that will prescribe the lethal drugs, instead of leaving that up to patients.  

Here are other SB 380 provisions:

  • The bill’s sunset date of 2025 will be removed after only four years of published annual reports by the California Department of Public Health. The sunset date was put in the original bill to allow the legislature to reevaluate the law’s impact using a decade of data. 
  • Patients will no longer have to make two oral requests for suicide drugs with a 15-day waiting period between requests as is currently required. This safeguard was added to make sure patients weren’t making impulsive decisions or being subject to coercion of any kind.
  • The bill removes the requirement that a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist conduct a mental health evaluation if the patient’s physician suspects underlying mental health or impairment issues. Now licensed clinical social workers or professional counselors will be able to do the mental evaluation.

SB 380 will be heard before the Senate Health Committee this Wednesday, March 24. 

Call to Action

Get connected with your State Senator (Click here) and tell them to vote no on SB 380.

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