Last week, the California legislature voted to allow doctors to help their patients kill themselves.
This decision is deeply disturbing — and so is the process that led to this vote.
Assembly and Senate leaders chose to push this bill (ABX2-15) through an “extraordinary” legislative session that Governor Brown had called to deal with health care financing for the poor.
This is no way for our government to make policy on a life and death issue that will affect millions of individuals and families for years to come.
The people of California — especially the poor, the elderly, minorities and the disabled — deserve much better from their leaders.
And make no mistake, it will be these most vulnerable populations who are going to suffer from this legislation.
We know already that poor families, African Americans, Latinos and immigrants do not have enough access to quality health care. We also know that the millions forced to rely on Medi-Cal have limited treatment options when they face a serious diagnosis or terminal illness.
In a health care system that is so cost-conscious and profit-driven, I am afraid that lethal prescriptions to commit suicide will fast become the only acceptable “treatment option” for our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. I am afraid that in our health care environment, suicide will be promoted as the most “efficient” and cost-saving alternative.
The sad reality is that millions of Californians do not have the luxury to think about a “death with dignity.”
They are too busy struggling with low wages and not enough job opportunities; with housing costs and troubled neighborhoods; with poor health care and discrimination.
Our government’s priority should be to help make life more dignified for people, not death.
And lawmakers need to be honest in their language so we can understand what we are really doing with this legislation. We are not legalizing “aid in dying.”
What the legislature is legalizing is the ability of a doctor to write prescriptions for the express purpose of killing another human being.
And we have to ask ourselves: Is this the legacy that we want to leave for future generations of Californians? To say that in the face of human pain and suffering, we as a society responded by making it easier to kill those who are suffering?
I believe we are a better people than that. And I believe we can find a truly compassionate way to help all Californians manage pain, treat their illnesses and prepare for death.
But there are no “quick fixes.” It will take patience, hard study and deliberate choices.
Unfortunately, Assembly and Senate leaders rushed this bill through in three weeks during this “extraordinary” session. They held only two hearings and floor debates, and barely considered some of the deeper issues of end-of-life care.
To really address these issues, we need to study complicated questions surrounding treatment costs, especially the costs of cancer medications. We need to study insurance practices that effectively limit access to hospice care and restrict physicians’ options in providing pain relief and palliative care.
We need to understand the limited health care options available for the poor, the elderly, minorities and the disabled. We need to consider the training and education we provide doctors in palliative care and geriatrics.
And we also need to understand the spiritual and psychological issues affecting those who are dying and the effects on their families and loved ones.
Our lawmakers have not even studied how doctor-assisted suicide is functioning in states and countries where it is legal.
There are well-substantiated reports of serious abuses and complications in Oregon, Washington and Belgium, among other places.
Among the allegations are that patients are being coerced by physicians and by family members to “choose” suicide over continued treatment. Elsewhere, physicians are facing legal threats if they do not provide deadly prescriptions.
Again, the question: Is this the legacy we want for the future of California?
And if we open the door and allow doctors to help terminally ill patients kill themselves, how will we prevent others from demanding the same “rights”? Are we opening the door to state-sanctioned “death on demand” for anyone who wants it? This legislation — and the process by which it was passed — is not worthy of our great state.
So this week, let us pray for the great state of California. And I urge you to join me in asking Governor Brown to veto this legislation and to insist that our lawmakers begin an open and thoughtful study of how we live and die in California.
And may our Blessed Mother Mary, Seat of Wisdom and Health of the Sick, guide us in this important hour for our state and our nation.
Editor’s note: Urge Gov. Brown to veto ABX2-15. Write to the Governor at http://ahardpill.org/you-can-help/.