California Senate Committee Passes Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide

State   Steven Ertelt   May 29, 2015   |   11:17AM    Sacramento, CA

A California state Senate committee yesterday signed off on a bill to legalize assisted suicide and has sent the bill to the full state Senate for a vote.

The Democrat-dominated California Senate Appropriations Committee approved SB 128, “physician-assisted suicide,” where often-misdiagnosed and depressed “terminal” patients would be prescribed a lethal dose of drugs, “inspiring” a suicide culture.

The group Save California called the vote a wimpy “substitute roll call” vote, announced passing 5 to 2, Democrats for and “Republicans against.”

“We wish the Republicans on the committee had demanded a roll call vote, because then it could have been close. Democrat Connie Leyva announced she would be voting yes on the bill’s fiscal aspects, but “still has a little research” to do on the merits of the bill,” the group said.

The organization is concerned Democrats in California will turn the state into a beacon for those wanting to kill themselves with a law preying on the elderly and disabled.

“Will California do suicide prevention or suicide promotion?” asked SaveCalifornia.com President Randy Thomasson. “Because it’s a totally mixed message to tell depressed people ‘live’ and ‘die,’ ‘save yourself’ and ‘kill yourself.’ If the State of California promotes ‘physician-assisted suicide’ with SB 128, there will be copycat suicides and self-inflicted suicides, especially among young people, because you’re sending the deadly message that ‘suicide is the answer.'”

Thomasson added:

Look at the rash of copycat suicides in Palo Alto, where nearly every year one or more teenagers throw themselves in front of a train. Look at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, where numerous suicides have necessitated a suicide-prevention telephone and posted sign, reading ‘There is hope, make the call.’ Look how the rate of ‘conventional’ suicides are running rampant in Oregon, with hospitals reporting an alarming rate of ‘self-inflicted’ suicide attempts, making suicide the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults. It’s clear that promoting one kind of suicide promotes suicide in general.”

From the Oregon Public Health Division, 2012: “Suicides in Oregon: Trends and Risk Factors”:

“Suicide is an important public health problem in Oregon. Health surveys conducted in 2008 and 2009 show that approximately 15 percent of teens and four percent of adults ages 18 and older had serious thoughts of suicide during the past year; and about five percent of teens and 0.4 percent of adults made a suicide attempt in the past year. In 2010, there were 685 Oregonians who died by suicide and more than 2,000 hospitalizations due to suicide attempts. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Oregonians ages 15-34, and the 8th leading cause of death among all ages in Oregon. The cost of suicide is enormous. In 2010 alone, self-inflicted injury hospitalization charges exceeded 41 million dollars; and the estimate of total lifetime cost of suicide in Oregon was over 680 million dollars. The loss to families and communities broadens the impact of each death.”

“It’s sad that the Democrat-dominated Senate Appropriations Committee substituted a rubber-stamp vote instead of doing a serious, role-call vote on this life-and-death issue,” Thomasson said. “And it’s frustrating that neither Republican on the committee demanded a roll call vote or spoke against this bad bill.”

“We hope there are enough state senators who believe that depressed, ‘terminal’ individuals should be encouraged to live each day of their God-given life to love life and love people,” Thomasson concluded. “But approving SB 128 would throw gasoline on the fire, creating a suicide contagion in the nation’s most populous state. This would be a terrible message to send to impressionable children, because no one should be told ‘suicide is the answer.’ Will Jerry Brown intervene to prevent California from becoming the Suicide State?”

Wesley Smith, a California attorney who writes frequently about assisted suicide and euthanasia, says the bill is loaded with problems and would have doctors lying about the cause of death of patients killed in assisted suicides.

Here are his remarks from a column in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper:

Assisted suicide supporters have filed SB128, a bill in the state California Senate to legalize doctor-prescribed death. Supporters justify the move by pointing to Oregon’s assisted-suicide experience that, they claim, has worked without a flaw.

But how would they know?

State oversight depends almost entirely on self-reporting by physicians, who are about as likely to tell the state that they broke the law as they are to tell the IRS they cheated on their taxes. Moreover, Oregon state officials admitted to a British House of Lords investigative committee considering legalization of assisted suicide, that Oregon’s oversight agency does not have the legal authority — or budget — to conduct independent inquiries even if a legal violation is uncovered.

Perhaps that is why Dr. Kathleen Foley and psychiatrist Herbert Hendin — a nationally known palliative care expert and a premier suicide prevention expert, respectively — concluded in their Michigan Law Review study that “the evidence strongly suggests” the Oregon law’s “safeguards are circumvented in ways that are harmful to patients.”

Meanwhile, data published by the Oregon Health Department shows that most requests for assisted suicide involve future fears about losing autonomy or the ability to engage in enjoyable activities and possible loss of dignity. These are important matters to be sure, but they don’t require lethal prescriptions to ameliorate.

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Passing SB128 would dramatically increase California’s suicide rate. Last year, 105 Oregonians died by assisted suicide. California’s population is 10 times larger than Oregon’s (37.5 million versus only 3.8 million), meaning that perhaps 1,000 of us could die each year by doctor-prescribed death if the bill becomes law. If so, California’s suicide rate would increase from about 3,300 annually to 4,300, an upsurge of about one-third.

SB128 would hide that problem by requiring doctors to lie on death certificates. Under the bill, if a terminally ill patient takes a legally prescribed overdose, “The cause of death listed on an individual’s death certificate who uses aid-in-dying medication shall be the underlying terminal illness.” That’s not only a corruption of public records integrity, but would materially thwart the very transparency that advocates claim that their bill promotes.

Assisted-suicide apologists might say that the increased number of suicides wouldn’t matter because the people receiving the prescriptions would be dying anyway. But surely that doesn’t excuse falsifying public documents.

Moreover, by definition, those who died under the law would have passed later, but for taking the lethal drugs. Which raises another point: Legalizing doctor-prescribed death would mean that suicidal terminally ill patients would often be denied suicide-prevention services, currently a crucial aspect of hospice care.

Besides, a terminal diagnosis isn’t a guarantee one will die when predicted. Most of us know of people who were supposed to die within six months but lived for years. Humorist Art Buchwald is a notable example. He entered hospice for kidney failure, but rather than dying as expected, improved to the point that he left the program. He even lived long enough to write his last book — about the great value he received from his experience in hospice!

Assisted suicide is bad medicine and even worse public policy. The Legislature should reject hastened death and focus instead on assuring that every Californian has ready access to the best end-of-life care that medicine can provide.

TAKE ACTION: Urge these “swing vote” senators to OPPOSE suicide, OPPOSE SB 128: Jim Beall (408) 558-1295, Cathleen Galgiani (209) 948-7930, Steve Glazer (925) 942-6082, Isadore Hall (310) 514-8573, Connie Leyva (909) 591-7016, Tony Mendoza (323) 890-2790, Ben Hueso (619) 409-7690, Richard Pan (916) 651-1529, Richard Roth (951) 680-6750. Also urge Gov. Jerry Brown to plan to veto SB 128 by calling (916) 445-2841. Others fighting SB 128 have also ID’d as “swing votes” to call — Democrat Carol Liu (818) 409-0400, and Republicans Tom Berryhill (209) 848-8001, Anthony Cannella (209) 581-9827, and Bob Huff (714) 671-9474.