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Californians urged to oppose rollback of assisted suicide safeguards

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Sacramento, Calif., May 27, 2021 / 11:05 am (CNA).

The California Catholic Conference is urging the faithful to speak out against a proposed state law that would remove several safeguards on assisted suicide, a practice which has been legal in the state since 2015. 

“The move follows the usual path of physician-assisted suicide laws in other states and nations – promise protections and limits, then gradually strip those away,” the conference said in a recent statement. 

The bill, SB 380, would remove the 15-day waiting period for lethal drugs in favor of a waiting period of just 48 hours, without any mandatory mental health assessment. 

Assisted suicide was legalized in California in 2015 by the End of Life Option Act, implemented under then-governor Jerry Brown. That act originally included a sunset clause and a legislative evaluation in 2026. 

SB 380 would eliminate the sunset clause, effectively enshrining assisted suicide in California law permanently. 

The conference noted that California’s assisted suicide law passed in the first place in part because of the safeguards and because of the sunset clause. 

“Why now? Why the rush? Why, after so many deaths during the pandemic and rates of depression skyrocketing, do we need to encourage more death now?” the conference asked. 

There is “no data or science” to support the removal of such safeguards, the Orange County Register has noted. The Catholic conference has criticized the lack of data collected and a lack of transparency in the law’s implementation. Annual reports on the End of Life Option Act do not include any information on the reasons for patients requesting the lethal drugs. 

During a committee oversight hearing on SB 380, proponents of assisted suicide bemoaned the fact that minorities were largely not making use of the state’s legal assisted suicide option, the conference said. The conference criticized the law for disproportionately affecting the disabled, the elderly, non-English speakers, and those in poor communities.

“Sadly, Medi-Cal still does not have sufficient palliative care funding to ensure recipients receive adequate end-of-life care and are not subtly encouraged to take their lives,” the conference noted. 

Palliative care involves medical care and pain management for the symptoms of those suffering from a serious illness, and refraining from taking actions that directly take the life of the patient, as opposed to the practices of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The Catholic Medical Association, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association, have repeatedly expressed support for palliative care as opposed to assisted suicide. 

In addition to California, assisted suicide is legal by law in Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia; and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling.

The initial legislative effort to pass an assisted suicide bill in California failed in committee during the 2015 regular season, following months of media attention to the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with an aggressive brain tumor who moved from California to Oregon in order to take advantage of legal assisted suicide there.

Within the first six months of legalizing assisted suicide in California, more than 100 people ended their own lives under the framework.

In 2018, Superior Judge Daniel Ottolia of Riverside County declared California’s assisted suicide law unconstitutional, ruling that the legislation was “adopted illegally” since it was passed during a legislative session limited to issues other than assisted suicide. 

Then-California Attorney General Xavier Becerra— now U.S. secretary of health and human services— appealed Ottolia’s ruling in May 2018, and fought to reinstate the assisted suicide law.

The law was upheld by a January 2020 ruling of the Riverside County Superior Court, which determined that it was lawfully passed and did not violate the state constitution.


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