California governor faces final call on right-to-die bill

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Toni Broaddus, at the microphone, is California campaign director for Compassion & Choices. She is with Dan Diaz, the husband of the late Brittany Maynard who is pictured in her wedding gown, and legislators who sponsored the bill to legalize physician assisted dying, Senate Majority leader Bill Monning on the left and Senate majority whip Lois Wolk on the right.  Photo courtesy of Compassion & Choices

Toni Broaddus, at the microphone, is California campaign director for Compassion & Choices. She is with Dan Diaz, the husband of the late Brittany Maynard who is pictured in her wedding gown, and legislators who sponsored the bill to legalize physician assisted dying, Senate Majority leader Bill Monning on the left and Senate majority whip Lois Wolk on the right. Photo courtesy of Compassion & Choices

(RNS) California Gov. Jerry Brown has until midnight Oct. 7 to sign or veto a controversial bill that would legalize physician-assisted dying in the nation’s most populous state.

Both supporters of the bill, who say it fosters “death with dignity,” and opponents, who call it legalized suicide, urge calls to the governor’s office and prayers to the Almighty while they wait out the clock.

And both sides expect this decision is a tough call for Brown.

“Just like everyone who struggles with the meaning of the end of life, he’ll have that struggle, but I don’t see him vetoing the bill,” said Toni Broaddus, the California campaign director for Compassion & Choices, the national organization leading the push for the bill.

“What’s more fundamental about being human than whom you love or how you die? Decisions around these reside with the individual, not the state,” said Broaddus, a veteran LGBT activist who was a co-founder of the California Freedom to Marry Coalition.

READ: Joni Eareckson Tada to Brittany Maynard: God alone chooses the day you die, not you

Disability rights activist and evangelical author Joni Eareckson Tada is fervently praying for a veto but she, too, said, “I think Brown is struggling with the issue and listening to both sides.”

Tada blogged at “Joni & Friends” that the bill undermines compassion and would be “very bad news for the elderly, the disabled, and the medically fragile.”

Joni Eareckson Tada is an author, disability advocate and the founder of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, whose Christian Institute on Disability aggressively promotes life, human dignity and the value of all individuals from a biblical perspective. Injured in a diving accident in 1967, Tada is one of the longest living quadriplegics on record. Photo courtesy of Joni Eareckson Tada

Joni Eareckson Tada, an author, disability advocate and the founder of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, opposes right-to-die legislation. Photo courtesy of Joni Eareckson Tada

The End of Life Option Act (the bill’s formal name) passed in legislative special session in mid-September and reached Brown’s desk Sept. 25. But few expected the former Jesuit seminarian would sign it during Pope Francis’ U.S. visit.

The Catholic Church has been one of the most outspoken groups battling nationwide to halt laws that allow physicians to write a lethal prescription for someone who is terminally ill.

Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez condemned the bill, saying in a church column, “Helping someone to die — even if that person asks for that help — is still killing,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Compassion & Choices disagrees. It is the Oregon-based action group that 29-year-old Californian Brittany Maynard turned to for help in dying on her own terms rather than succumbing to an aggressive brain tumor.

Maynard made international headlines in October 2014 when she announced her plan to die Nov. 1 in Oregon. In a series of videos she taped promoting national campaigns for the right to die, Maynard called on listeners to “advocate.” The End of Life Option Act is closely modeled after the death-with-dignity law in Oregon.

Tada, quadriplegic since 1967 and a cancer survivor, had publicly urged Maynard to step back and let God decide on life and death. Maynard died Nov. 1 after taking the lethal drugs.

Nearly a year later, Tada’s objections are unchanged.

She holds a deep religious conviction that choosing a day to die, rather than leaving that decision in God’s hands, separates someone from God for eternity. It also separates the dying person from the compassionate care of loved ones. “It unravels compassion,” she said in an interview Thursday (Oct. 1).

For a doctor to write such a prescription and for loved ones to stand by and let someone swallow the drugs “is a form of abandonment.” As social policy, legalizing what she calls “suicide” is to “radicalize one’s right to privacy. It dresses up our willful determination as rights,” she said.

Others argue that legalizing physician-assisted dying allows individuals to make their religious determinations about death and dying by their own spiritual lights. It’s a view that is gaining ground inch by inch in state legislatures.

READ: 5 things to know about death and dying debates

Compassion & Choices has an interactive state-by-state map tracking right-to-die bills. It shows Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont allow medically assisted dying but it’s caught up in the courts in New Mexico, where supporters are seeking a review by the state Supreme Court.

And campaigns are under way for legislation in 24 states and the District of Columbia. But in many states, the topic lingers for years in legislative subcommittee. If Brown signs the bill in California, or allows it to become law without his signature, it will jump-start the conversations nationwide.

A Gallup Poll in May found that 68 percent of Americans support the idea of physician-assisted dying. Statewide polls show a majority of Californians agree.

Broaddus said surveys show that 60 percent of California Catholics support right-to-die legislation and so do 57 percent of evangelicals in the state. In focus groups, she said they found, “People, no matter how they felt personally, believe every person should be able to make their own decisions about the end of life.”

Broaddus said, “Marriage and death are both fundamental issues and most Californians agree that the biggest decisions of your life you should be free to make without government interference and to make according to your own values and religious beliefs.”


  • Sister Geraldine Marie, OP, RN, PHN

    It is against the law to commit suicide in every state of the U.S. It is clearly in one of the Ten Commandments which states, “Thou shalt not murder.” Life belongs solely to its Creator. Did you call yourself into being? Of course not. People should not be allowed to commit murder and suicide. The Creator is in charge. Pray and use comfort measures. Make peace with family and friends, but please do not allow your most precious gift to be taken from you!

  • Sister Geraldine Marie, OP, RN, PHN

    Dear Governor Brown: As a practicing Roman Catholic it would be a mortal sin to sign this law or to just allow it to take effect without your signature.
    There are many comfort measures today that can help dying patients. It would be on the conscience of everyone involved, if this bill were to pass. GOD IS REAL–peoples’ opinions come and go! FEAR GOD AND OBEY HIS LAWS!
    I’m in terrible pain daily, but I won’t even consider suicide.

  • clucas RN, MSN

    Death with dignity is a necessary and compassionate alternative. You and I both know that hospice care sounds great on paper but in reality does not comfort our patients.

  • Deborah Bridge, MS, MA, CAS, PhD-c

    If it is your belief that you must die when God says it is time, that is fine — the law does not REQUIRE you to do otherwise. However, it is not my belief. Why do some feel they must bind everyone else by their own beliefs? Governor Brown: I wholeheartedly support this bill!!

  • candace todd

    Wait until your loving family member is sent home to die and you have to watch them suffer in excruciating pain and give them morphine and it doesn’t help and they are terminal. They can’t eat or speak and tears roll down their cheeks and their eyes and plead to you for help. They know they are going to know they are dying. The whole family has to watch this and you pray to God to be merciful and take them quickly. You are helpless. These memories s yt? at with you forever. Your life and your loved ones are never the same. You lose your job to stay home because they need 24 hour care and you can’t afford it. Hospice stops by one time a day. Big deal. I would have given anything to have medicine to help poo my loved one pass from this earth to his loving Jesus but I had no choices.

  • Ed Silha

    Those that support the right to end your life, when death is immanent and life is nothing more than pain, mind numbing pain medication, and guilt for burdening your loved ones, are not forcing others to end their lives. They are demanding that personal decision (freedom) should not be encumbered by the religious beliefs of others who want to impose those religious beliefs on everyone. Those beliefs are based on the arrogant claim that the holders of the beliefs know the mind of god and therefore their beliefs trump the beliefs and freedom of others.

  • Larry

    Vague threats Sister Gerry, that is what you are reduced to?

    Your whole spiel amounts to, your religious belief says it is a bad thing, therefore nobody should be able to do it. That sort of reasoning is not only fairly arrogant, but quite easy to dismiss.

    What you think God says on a subject is not something anyone else is required to consider. Nobody has to care.

    There are far saner arguments against assisted suicide. Ones that don’t depend on people investing you with authority on the basis of your narrow religious beliefs. But you are far too arrogant to consider them. Too busy trying to force others to live by your religious beliefs to bother to look.

    You actually make it far easier for those who support assisted suicide. By reducing the “cons” to shrill religious pronouncements and being tone deaf to the suffering others describe, it makes opposition an irrelevance.

    Frankly I don’t like the idea of bureaucratizing suicide.

  • Larry

    They have assisted suicide in countries with single payer insurance also. You also don’t make much sense. Insurance companies want people alive to pay premiums.

    Most people are net gains for health insurers. Insurance is a volume business. For every young terminal insured there are 1000 healthy insured spreading the risk for them. People dying in middle age or the elderly have already made the insurance companies profitable over the course of their lives.

  • dmj76

    Dear clucas RN, MSN

    What is your alternative to hospice for cancer end of life?

    best wishes

  • Dorothy DeWeese

    Remember separation of Church and State? Politics and Religion (and I am a Methodist) have no business in the discussion of how anyone chooses to die.This is a fundamental freedom and each person should be able to make this medical choice as they see fit. The Physician Aid In Dying bills would give that freedom to each individual to choose according to their own beliefs. If the law is passed, those who don’t want to have assisted aid in dying can extend the dying process as long as they want, but please don’t tell me I have to.

  • Elaine Frisbee

    I am very strong in my Catholic faith…I fervently believe that God guides every step on the path of my life on earth towards my eventual eternal life with Him. In that I know that he knows the pain and fear of my incurable disease. He will also let me know when he is ready to take me home AND when that time comes he will provide the means, even if it be through my own hand with prescribed medication. The way this regulation is written is very careful and well thought out and if it be God’s will then Governor Brown will sign it because God has guided his heard his prayers and guided his hand as he does mine. I BELIEVE!

  • Ingrid Gordon RN-BC

    I work in a specialty hospital – we care for hospice patients who require hospital level of care and we do our very best to manage symptoms like pain, dyspnea, intractable nausea/vomiting. We are usually quite successful in managing these distressing symptoms – but there are things that we cannot change such as the loss of autonomy that people experience as their disease progresses. There are hospice patients who, despite our excellent symptom management, choose to end their life on their terms. While I respect Sister Geraldine Marie’s comments and views these are not the beliefs of everyone. Our constitution is based on the separation of church and state. I ask Governor Brown to remember this and to sign this law which allows patient autonomy for those who wish to choose to use a lethal prescription and also forces the decision on none.

  • Isabella

    Actually, suicide is NOT a crime in any of the 50 United States. It was in the past, though, and people who attempted suicide would be put in jail. Do you really want to return to the Dark Ages?

  • John Eldon

    Thank you, Ms. Bridge. Spot-on! The Church of Rome does not have the right to force us to suffer needlessly. Oregon’s death with dignity law worked brilliantly for Brittany Maynard and for one of my own relatives, who did not want to wait around to drown in his own fluids from terminal lung cancer, except that both had to relocate to use it.

  • Rhonda

    No one is asking you to participate, just let a person decide for himself. There are many different beliefs and everyones’ is not necessarily yours.

  • John Eldon

    Bingo! You are correct, but what else would you expect from the Church of Rome? I am confident that Thomas Jefferson, for example, would heartily endorse end of life choices. Freedom OF religion includes freedom FROM religion.

  • John Eldon

    Fellow Methodist here (and Republican, for that matter). Spot on!

  • Rhonda

    Thank you for saying the words I wanted to say! Beautifully expressed.

  • Larry

    “Do you really want to return to the Dark Ages?”

    Do you really want to ask a nun that question. 🙂