This past October, California governor Jerry Brown signed an assisted suicide law making it legal in the state for “physicians to provide lethal prescriptions to mentally competent adults who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and face the expectation that they will die within six months.”
However, not all medical professionals and hospitals agree with the intent of this law. For example, just this past week all three hospitals serving the greater Palm Springs area of California refused to provide the means for a patient to receive assisted suicide. Desert Regional Medical Center and JFK Memorial opted out following the lead of Eisenhower Medical Center which “issued a policy saying the Rancho Mirage hospital was ‘declining to participate in all activities’ related to the new law.” An article in The Desert Sun further states,
“Eisenhower’s policy also states that doctors can refer patients to other doctors, but they cannot process patient consent, dispense the medication or be present when the medications are administered.”
In Santa Barbara, California, “Santa Barbara County hospitals plan to support patients seeking information on California’s End of Life Option Act, but their physicians will not write prescriptions to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives.”
In addition, Lompoc Valley Medical Center will not participate in the implementation of the law, nor will Marian Regional Medical Center. However the Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care organization will cooperate in supporting patients who want physician-assisted suicide, but “VNHC will not administer or obtain the drugs, but will work cooperatively with the patient’s attending physician and provide social workers to consult about the aid-in-dying law.”
Furthermore, “Five physicians from southern California and the American Academy of Medical Ethics, a Christian medical group with a national membership in the thousands” are suing in an attempt to knock out the new law. While efforts to acquire an emergency restraining order to stop the law failed in court, the effort to stop the law continues. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Dr. Sang-Hoon Ahn, a Los Angeles oncologist, wrote that it leaves his patients ‘highly vulnerable to being easily influenced or coerced into making decisions that they really do not want.’”
The doctors involved in the case are represented by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, which filed a civil rights lawsuit on June 8 and issued a statement explaining the reasoning behind that lawsuit. In part, the organization tells us:
California’s assisted suicide law does not require labeled individuals seeking a lethal prescription to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, so patients with untreated depression and suicidal ideation can be prescribed lethal drugs. A large body of psychiatric research has demonstrated that 80-90% of all suicides are associated with depression or other treatable mental disorders. The California Department of Public Health Care Services assumes that only two percent of Medi-Cal patients likely to request the lethal drugs will be referred for psychiatric counseling and set the state budget accordingly.
“We are asking the court to uphold civil and criminal laws that should apply equally to all Californians, including laws that protect people from self-harm and elder abuse laws. The End of Life Option Act is irreparably flawed as it removes crucial protections from individuals who are most susceptible to depression, abuse, and coercion,” said Alexandra Snyder, executive director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation. “The Act provides virtually no safeguards for labeled individuals who may suffer from untreated mental illness or mood disorders and grants full immunity for doctors to participate in the killing of their most vulnerable patients.”
The work of Life Legal Defense Foundation, in addition to the principled positions that have been taken by various hospitals and healthcare entities in the state of California, are hopeful signs that Americans are beginning to see why it is wrong to take any action that effectively results in the death of another human being regardless of the reasoning provided.
Archbishop Jose Gomez, leader of the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said that the law is wrong, and points out, “Killing is not caring.”
Gomez reminds us that “true compassion means walking with those who are suffering, sharing their pain, helping them bear their burdens. Loving your neighbor as yourself is not a duty we fulfill by giving our neighbor a lethal dose of pills.”
California, please! Just say no to direct killing. Say yes to life!