California bishops join in fight against proposal

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The California Catholic bishops are joining with a coalition of medical, ethical and disability rights groups to fight a new effort to legalize assisted suicide in the state.

The Web site of the California Catholic Conference, the public policy agency of the state’s bishops, includes a link to Californians Against Assisted Suicide, formed to work for the defeat of AB 374, called the Compassionate Choices Act, in the California Legislature.

Catholics were urged to call or fax their representatives in the Legislature, asking them to “oppose assisted suicide and to support laws that will continue to protect the medically dependent and the emotionally vulnerable.”

Introduced Feb. 15, AB 374 contains language identical to legislation that died in a Senate committee last June. It would allow a physician to prescribe a self-administered, life-ending drug for an adult who requested it and had been found by two doctors to be mentally competent and within six months of death.

The bill, which would require all state agencies to refer to assisted suicide as “aid-in-dying,” is similar to the Oregon law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

But Californians Against Assisted Suicide said the legislation is unnecessary and could be dangerous to those with chronic disabilities or who are too poor to afford health care.

“Is the Legislature saying to the low-income, ‘We won’t help you access health care, but we will make it easier for you to commit suicide when you’re sick and uninsured?’“the coalition asked in its commentary on the bill.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he thinks the assisted suicide issue should be decided by the voters and not by the Legislature.

In addition to the California Catholic Conference, members of the coalition include the Alliance of Catholic Healthcare, the National Council on Disability, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American Academy of Medical Ethics, Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, Not Dead Yet and about three dozen other organizations.

According to the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, proposals to legalize assisted suicide are currently under consideration in Arizona, Hawaii and Vermont, in addition to California. Oregon is the only state to permit assisted suicide.

Since the Oregon law took effect in 1997, 390 people have requested prescriptions for lethal medication and 246 of them have taken it.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.