California Committee Approves Assisted Suicide Bill Doctors, Pro-Life Groups Oppose

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 13, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

California Committee Approves Assisted Suicide Bill Doctors, Pro-Life Groups Oppose

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 13
, 2005

Sacramento, CA ( — A California state legislative committee on Tuesday approved a bill making the state the second in the nation to legalize assisted suicide. The measure now heads to the full state Assembly, where it is expected to be the subject of a fierce debate.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved the measure on a 5-3 vote with Assemblywoman Patty Berg, a Democrat, joining two Republicans to vote against it.

Democrats control the full state assembly, but such a large coalition of groups has developed to oppose the bill that some Democrats will likely oppose the bill.

Assemblywoman Patty Berg and Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, both Democrats, introduced Assembly Bill 654 and accepted amendments to it to prevent misuse.

The changes include language to stop coercion and to ensure patients are not overly medicated at the time the request for the assisted suicide is made.

Under the measure, two doctors much agree that the patient has six months or less to live, that the patient is competent to make the decision, and both physicians must submit reports to the state health department.

The patient must make two oral requests to allowed to kill himself and one written one.

The measure pits euthanasia advocates against a coalition of doctors, disability rights groups, and pro-life organizations.

Ned Dolejsi, director of the California Catholic Conference, told lawmakers that "it’s never right to commit, encourage, endorse or assist suicide for persons of any age or stage of life."

According to the Oakland Tribune newspaper, he told legislators they should "work together to deal with the real issues of health care, death and dying in our society."

Disability activists also worry that the legislation would encourage insurance and drug companies to "promote" assisted suicide as a way to manage costs. Marilyn Golden, policy analyst with the Disability Rights, Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley told the Los Angeles Times that treatments can cost tens of thousands of dollars while a prescription for the drugs to cause a suicide may be $50.

"We know how the profit motive intrudes into all areas that the healthcare system touches," she said.

Golden is also worried that some patients are misdiagnosed as terminal and would be encouraged by doctors to prematurely end their lives.

"Anybody who is misdiagnosed as terminal could make use of assisted suicide if the bill is passed," she told the Times.

The California Medical Associated also opposes the bill.

If the California Assembly backs the measure, it would head to the state Senate for consideration.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could prove key to whether the bill becomes law, since he has not commented on whether he would sign such legislation if it lands on his desk.

California voters rejected an assisted suicide proposal by a 54 to 46 percent margin in 1992 and legislation to legalize it failed in 1999.

Proposals to legalize assisted suicide have failed in Hawaii, Maine, Vermont and Michigan in recent years.

In a 1997 case, the Supreme Court ruled that no right to assisted suicide exists, but states could decide whether to allow assisted suicides to take place.

ACTION: Contact Governor Schwarzenegger and urge opposition to assisted suicide. Write him at: State Capitol Bldg., Sacramento, CA 95814, (p) 916-445-284, (f) 916-445-4633, (e) [email protected]

Related web sites:
California Pro-Life Council –
Euthanasia.Com –
International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force –