A bill that could have legalized assisted suicide in California had a silent death this past Thursday after the bill’s major supporter shelved it, realizing it would not have enough Democratic votes to pass out of the Assembly.
Several pro-life groups have been celebrating the halt to Assembly Bill 374 (A.B. 374), which would have allowed physicians to euthanize terminally ill patients with less than six months to live.
Many groups had been worried that the June 2 release of Jack Kevorkian, who assisted 130 people in committing suicide, would help the bill gain some support, and applauded those California assemblymen who chose not to back the controversial law.
"Doctors should be healers, not killers," said Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families (CCF), in a statement. "Jack Kevorkian may be on the loose again, but the defeat of this suicide bill means 'Dr. Death' won't be employed in California anytime soon."
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) had been pushing for A.B. 374, which had been modeled after Oregon’s current assisted suicide bill, for four months before the last-minute pull out. Oregon is currently the only state that allows the practice, which gives a legal dose of medication to patients who wish to go through the procedure.
Nunez felt the bill, also named the “California Compassionate Choices Act,” would be a suitable alternative for those who are in critical condition and that the proposal was labeled unfairly.
"[There has been] lively discussion and debate among Democrats," explained the house speaker, who pulled the A.B. 374 on the eve of the vote, “[but it has been] very difficult because of the way the issue has been demonized by the religious right."
After informal polling by the two co-authors of the bill, Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) and Patty Berg (D-Eureka), evidence showed that the bill lacked 41 of the 48 Democratic votes. Most of the assemblymen felt uncomfortable supporting a bill that could cost them California votes in the future. The bill was shelved until 2008 to protect these representatives until it could gain more support.
"Rather than putting members in that position, we'll spend the rest of the year alleviating concerns and bring it up next year," explained Levine in the Contra Costa Times. "People in every state hasten their deaths. This would provide a safe and legal process. This would make the Kevorkians go away."
Besides the obvious moral consequences of the bill, opponents argued that an assisted suicide bill could lead to increased pressure from doctors to terminally ill patients to avoid costs from keeping them alive.
“While California politicians spout euphemisms about dignified death, HMOs and state health bureaucrats are chortling with glee at the cost savings they'll reap when patients are steered toward a cheap death rather than legitimate health care,” wrote Jonathan Imbody, vice president of Government Relations for Christian Medical and Association, in USA Today.
In 1995, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that doctors in the Netherlands, which allows assisted suicides, euthanized about 1,000 patients without getting their “explicit request.” Around 20,000 were killed by large doses of opioids, such as morphine.
Nunez had attempted to garner last-minute support for the bill by cutting down the time scale from six months to three months. People still were uncomfortable with even the reduced provisions, however.
"The compassionate answer for ‘terminal’ patients is effective pain management, not suicide," added Thomasson. "God created us, and no innocent human being between womb and tomb deserves to be murdered, no matter what it's called. Legalizing so-called 'voluntary' assisted suicide today will lead to involuntary suicide tomorrow, like what's currently happening in hospitals in the Netherlands."
Nunez, who is a Catholic, has drawn strong criticism from the Catholic Church and other religious opponents since he first started supporting the bill in February.