Will twelve percent of the United States gain a legal right to assisted suicide tomorrow?

Tomorrow the State Assembly of the state of California may very well pass a bill to make assisted suicide legal for its 38+ million residents.   

But if it does, it will have happened via the most problematic of ways. As readers of Americamay recall, the state of California had been considering a bill to legalize assisted suicide as recently as July. That bill had moved via the standard legislative process through various committees of the Senate and the Senate itself over many months. But upon moving to the Assembly it found itself without the votes it needed in the health committee. Seeing that it could not pass, its proponents pulled it from consideration. 


That should have been the end of the matter for the moment. But then suddenly in mid August, advocates in the legislature seized upon the occasion of a special legislative session called by Governor Jerry Brown to push an identical version of the prior bill onto the agenda, bypassing the Assembly health care committee entirely.

The special session was one of two that Governor Brown called in August; each had a very particular focus—health care financing and road repairs. In California, special sessions are a tool to help the governor draw the attention of legislators to specific issues. But due to the rules of special sessions, in fact legislators are able to add all sorts of other agenda items of their own. So for instance in the health care session, in addition to the new assisted suicide legislation, legislators proposed measures to raise the smoking age to 21, and to better control the use of e-cigarettes.

The governor’s office has criticized the reintroduction of assisted suicide legislation in this way, and well they should. No matter where one stands on the matter of assisted suicide, it is an immensely serious undertaking. If it is to become a law, it should do so through the standard process of scrutiny. It should be subject to all of the public sessions and vigorous debates that a special session avoids. To act otherwise is both outrageous and dangerous.

The assisted suicide movement has gained a great deal of momentum in the last year after the advocacy and death of 29-year-old Californian Brittany Maynard. But it’s also worth noting, that surge of interest has not resulted in actual changes in the law anywhere at this point. In most states, the initial wave of enthusiasm among legislators and residents has passed as the complexities and possible unintended consequences of assisted suicide are studied. Advocate group Compassion and Choices argues there’s been no problems in Oregon or Washington State, where laws has been in place for some time. But scratch the surface of those states and you find that that is not true, there havebeen issues, and also that neither state offers a satisfying sample for a state as large and complex as California.

Today the new California bill sits before the assembly finance committee. If it passes it could go to the Assembly floor as soon as tomorrow, where current estimates suggest the group is almost evenly split. One can only hope that state legislators, whether in favor or against the legislation, will keep to the course of prudence and due process. The fact that there is no clear groundswell of opinion among the legislators should raise a red flag. And these measures are far too serious and complex to be slipped in through a back door. 



Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Richard Booth
3 years 4 months ago
As a life-long health care professional, I can understand both sides of the Kavorkian redivivus issue. On the one hand, human compassion cries out for relief while, at the same time, it is assumed that our lives do not ultimately belong to us. The former is the "reality on the ground," whereas the latter is based on a religious assumption. This is a very complex matter, indeed. It is clear where the Church authorities are in this matter, but one wonders how many clerics (at least those whose mission is to live with the nitty-gritty of life on the ground and make it a point to share the pain of their "sheep"), are personally "certain" about the Church's official position. The intellectual exercise seems much easier from a distance, and most of the deciding clerics are, indeed, at a distance, and have been all my life. When I was a child, it took me awhile to see the differences between the ideal presented in the film "Going My Way" and what the priests I knew were really like and what they seemed to care about.


The latest from america

Women served as deacons in Europe for about a millennium in a variety of ministerial and sacramental roles.
Brandon SanchezJanuary 15, 2019
In preparation for the gathering in Abu Dhabi, I find myself asking why my conversations with the future Pope Francis so powerfully affected both of us.
Abraham SkorkaJanuary 15, 2019
Photo: iStock
Included on the list is John T. Ryan, S.J., who from 1989 to 1994 was an associate editor for development at America.
Michael J. O’LoughlinJanuary 15, 2019
Did you ever wonder why Jesus was baptized? What sins did Jesus have to repent of? Nothing.
James Martin, S.J.January 14, 2019