California Legalizes Assisted Suicide Next Week

On June 9, 2016, in what the Bishops of California have called a “travesty of compassion,” physicians in California will legally be allowed to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to a patient.

Despite bi-partisan opposition and being defeated in the regular legislative session, the End-of-Life Option Act was passed in a special, abbreviated session with limited hearings and altered committee membership.

Those in favor of the law assured opponents that no expansion of physician-assisted suicide has occurred in other locations where the practice is legal.  Yet, the Governor is now proposing to pay for the lethal prescription of more than 400 Medi-Cal patients next year despite the fact that those same patients do not have access to palliative care and other quality care options.  Only nine of those Medi-Cal patients are projected to receive a psychiatric evaluation (which the law does not require.)

Another lawmaker attempted to establish an assisted suicide information telephone line – with a price tag of about half of what the state pays for suicide prevention.  (The bill stalled in Committee last week but it is now being proposed in the state budget.)

The hastening of death by a physician is such a fundamental shift in the doctor-patient relationship that Catholic hospitals and many other secular healthcare providers such as hospice programs and physicians have already stated that they will not participate in the law. 

Alleviating suffering and caring for the sick and dying are foundational principles of the Catholic faith.  The Church has been aiding the sick for centuries and will not stop caring for the ill and dying in all aspects of their spiritual, emotional and physical realities.  In fact, early Christians were known for staying to care for the ill when plagues devastated ancient cities and the remainder of the population abandoned the sick.

People at one of their most vulnerable periods of life should never be made to feel a burden to others.  It is at these periods in which they deserve to be accompanied on their journey and to feel the embrace of the community’s care and compassion.

The Bishops of California and various Catholic health care providers in the state have renewed their commitment to the sick so that no one feels they need to choose physician-assisted suicide. 

For more, Catholic end-of-life teaching, visit our Embracing Our Dying page or for more on the political maneuvering that resulted in the passage of this law, visit our End-of-Life Issues page.

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