A student asked me last week if I thought California’s Governor Jerry Brown would sign the suicide bill sitting on his desk. “Yes”, I said, “but once September is over.” “Why then?” he asked. “Because,” I said, “September is Suicide Prevention Month.”
After deliberating for less than a month, (and clearly waiting until the end of Suicide Prevention Month) California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed AB2X-15 making the Eureka State the fourth to allow physicians to write lethal prescriptions to the terminally ill. The so-called End-of-Life Option Act stalled in committee earlier this year before being added at the last minute to a September special session of the California State Legislature on—I’m not kidding—cost saving measures for MediCal. The irony of a suicide bill attached to a special session addressing health care costs is more than a little ominous and does not bode well for a program that is not financially sustainable anyway. There are some who might view recommending “end-of-life-options” (euphemism for recommending suicide) as one way to save on costly end of life care. Adding the bill to the special session was especially deceptive and even Governor Brown had previously expressed concern that such a bill would find its way to his desk without going through the proper legislative channels. Apparently he wasn’t concerned enough.
Californians Against Assisted Suicide called it a “dark day for California and the Brown legacy” while the Life Legal Defense Foundation warned that the bill will no doubt find itself the target of lawsuits since under California’s Constitution the Legislature is prohibited from passing bills not related to the purpose of the convention of a special session. This puts the bill in a tough spot, since defending its inclusion in the special session will be an admission that it constitutes a form of cost-saving, which opponents have warned about. On the other hand, saying the bill is unrelated to health care cost-saving would mean its passage through the special session is unconstitutional.
In his statement to the members of the Assembly, Governor Brown first misrepresented the bill, saying “The crux of the matter is whether the State of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life, not matter how great his pain or suffering.” That’s not exactly correct. It has never been a crime for someone to simply request a death-dealing drug—or, as the bill euphemistically puts it, “aid-in-dying-medication” (we would all be laughing if it weren’t about life and death). Most individuals who do so are in need of human care and, out of desperation, are not usually psychologically fit to make such a request. Suicide bills are not meant to help the terminally ill, but are principally intended to protect physicians from prosecution should they fulfill a request to prescribe death-dealing drugs—oops, I mean “aid-in-dying-medication”. Note the distinction between “pain” and “suffering” at the end of the above quote. This is disturbing, since most requests for suicide do not arise out of unmanageable physical pain (we’re remarkably good at controlling that), but rather out of existential suffering. And that could mean anything, as we saw in the case of the otherwise healthy but depressed 24 year old girl in Belgium.
Governor Brown claims to be a Catholic. In the letter to the Assembly, Brown wrote that he “considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one’s life is sinful.”
Considered, perhaps, but then ignored?
But we need not invoke religion to see that this bill presents a serious threat to the vulnerable, the elderly, the depressed, and others who have been convinced that they ought not become a burden to their loved ones.
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death…I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain.” Brown wrote. The Governor has succumbed to the fear-mongering of the suicide lobby.
It is a false dichotomy, plain and simple, to say that either the terminally ill suffer needlessly or they ask their doctor to help them to kill themselves. Modern means of effective pain management and palliative care split the horns of this false dilemma. True, no one need die alone or in agonizing pain. But now, because the Governor of California is himself unsure of how to address end-of-life-care in a manner consistent with human dignity, California has become just one more state where the sick and vulnerable are allowed to convince themselves that they are a burden and that “death with dignity” means suicide. God help us.
There are many disturbing aspects to this bill, from the problematic language of the bill itself to the circumstances surrounding its passage. It will no doubt face legal challenges and you will no doubt be hearing more on this from CV.