Assisted suicide comes to California

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California Governor Jerry Brown said he consulted widely but ultimately decided to sign the End of Life Option law legalizing physician-assisted dying.

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California Governor Jerry Brown said he consulted widely but ultimately decided to sign the End of Life Option law legalizing physician-assisted dying.

Official portrait of Jerry Brown as governor.

Official portrait of Jerry Brown as governor.

In signing the assisted suicide bill passed by the California legislature last month, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement explaining his decision in personal terms. “In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” he wrote. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

Brown, a Catholic who spent several years in a Jesuit seminary, thus rejected the position of his church, contained in articles 2280-2283 of the 1997 Catechism. That position is neither irrational nor inhumane. Indeed, Article 2283 declares, “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.” And Article 2283 asserts that those who take their own lives can still be saved.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has been the foremost opponent of assisted suicide legislation around the country, The question is why, like Brown, most Catholics support it (along with the large majority of other Americans). In a just released Field poll, 55 percent of Catholic Californians favored the law — fewer than the 65 percent of the population as a whole but still a substantial majority. Such support is nothing new.

Most people, it seems, would like the option to escape the kind of suffering that the end of life may impose, for their loved ones as well as for themselves. They see a permissible moral continuum from “do not resuscitate” to “refuse life-sustaining treatment” to palliative care to permitting the terminally ill to starve themselves to death. In an age when machines can prolong life in ways once unimaginable, the need to exert one’s will when it comes to dying now appears both necessary and normal.

There are, to be sure, theological arguments against suicide, assisted and otherwise. Catholicism sees it as violating the doctrine that we are stewards rather than owners “of the life God has entrusted to us.” But such teachings cannot be used in a secular civil polity like ours. Instead, the the Church must argue that assisted suicide is bad public policy that leads to unwanted and unnecessary deaths.

Thus far there’s no evidence that citizens in jurisdictions where it is legal have come to see it that way.

  • Please consider these specifics:
    By Oregon and Washington law all family members are not required to be contacted. A single heir is allowed to initiate and execute the lethal process without a witness, thus eviscerating intended safe guards. Everyone involved in the lethal process gets immediate immunity. A witness is not required to confirm the dose was self-administered so if they struggled and changed their mind who would ever know?
    In addition these laws prohibit investigations or public inquiries leaving no recourse for surviving family members who were not contacted. Does that sound like good public policy to you? This is a very dangerous public policy that allows for the exploitation of elders and people with disabilities of all ages. However, it serves the health insurance corporations very well.
    Unfortunately all of these loopholes are embodied in California’s ABX2-15.

  • Doc Anthony

    Christians, look for things to get worse and worse in this nation.

    California apparently wants to lead the way…off the cliff.

  • Fran

    Things will get worse and worse in all nations on earth, not just the U.S. Jesus foretold this taking place worldwide (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21); and the apostle Paul confirmed critical times in these “last days” as well (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

    Thankfully, the good news of God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44; Matt. 4:17) as the only hope for mankind is being preached worldwide before the end of this wicked era (Matthew 24:14) comes about.

  • Bernardo

    Fran,

    All of your “thum-ptations” are historically nil. You might want to do some rigorous historic testing of the OT and NT before citing passages from these mostly fictional books.

  • samuel johnston

    Christains have a long, long, bloody history of imposing their understaning of God’s will on those who disagree (or merely do not submit). They have used every weapon at their disposal, including killing everyone in a specified territory and letting God sort out the guilty from the innocent. (Cathars, Jerusalem Crusades, etc.) Despite this vile history, they persist in lecturing others concerning morals and ethics!
    Anyone who wishes to suffer the ills of old age until the bitter end of may do so, and do so at public expense, using all medical assistance available. I, for one, choose not, so you God crazies get out of my face, and leave me to die in peace.
    As for the end of the world…..that is just an ego trip for the gullible. The world is not affected.

  • drwho13

    “…the Catholic Church has been the foremost opponent of assisted suicide legislation around the country, The question is why, like Brown, most Catholics support it (along with the large majority of other Americans)” -Silk.

    My answer is; Catholics are much less likely to followed the flawed moral leadership provided by Catholics prelates (the upper 10th of 1% of the RCC) than they were in the past. The prelates lost their moral compass long ago. That fact only recently became apparent when they tried to cover up child sexual abuse crimes.

    In addition, today’s Catholics are not their grandparents Catholics. They’re educated to think for themselves, and don’t kiss bishops’ rings. As a former Catholic seminarian I hold most bishops in disdain. I learned a lot about how these scoundrels operate during my three years in a major Catholic seminary; and as the pope alludes to, many of these men are little more than careerist looking out only for their own interests.