SB128, the End of Life Option Act that would allow terminally ill, mentally competent patients under strict regulations to request medication to end their lives peacefully, has been abruptly halted in its march through the California Legislature.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, represented by Jose Gomez, successfully lobbied Latino lawmakers to vote against it in its first appearance in the Assembly Health Committee. Apparently alarmed by the seemingly easy passage through three committees of the Senate on a party line vote, the church mobilized itself, even taking to Twitter to warn, among others, Democratic Assembly members Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles, Freddie Rodriguez of West Covina and Ed Hernandez of Chin to withhold support.
Realizing they did not have the votes, sponsors Bill Monning and Lois Wolk pulled the bill from the agenda shortly before the hearing. Claiming it is not “dead,” however, they plan to try again within the two-year legislative session, but if their efforts to garner support fail again, supporters believe the bill will ultimately end up on the 2016 ballot — where it will likely succeed.
A recent bipartisan poll indicates that 70 percent of voters want the right to die to become law in California. Ironically, this level of support comes even from the most conservative areas of the state, such as San Diego and Fresno. Sixty percent of Latinos say they want it in place. Its long-time opponents, the California Medical Association and the California Hospital Association, have dropped their opposition, finally recognizing that it is the physician’s role to alleviate suffering, not to prolong a painful death.
Also opposed to SB128 are some disabled groups, which claim that disabled or low-income people can be “pressured” into ending their lives, a claim that has no merit in fact. A similar law, the result of ballot measures, has been on the books in Oregon since 1997 and in Washington State since 2008, and similar provisions are in effect in Montana and New Mexico by court ruling. The only Legislature to enact such a law is Vermont’s. In none of these states has even a single complaint been filed by any individual or any group.
In Oregon, only 770 people have ended their lives under the law since 1997, and the evidence is that they were well educated and insured. Most were in hospice or palliative care, countering a claim from some physicians that good palliative care would obviate the need for the law. The “slippery slope” to which disabled groups refer has simply not come to pass and there is no support for their continual unsubstantiated allusions to “reports that have not been filed.” Perhaps most telling of all is that are no lobbies, including the Catholic Church, seeking repeal of these laws in other states.
It is worth pointing out that the opponents of aid in dying repeatedly use the phrase “assisted suicide,” a politically charged term that like “partial birth abortion” arouses irrational fear. Those who commit suicide are willingly closing off the possibility of a future. The people who would benefit from the End of Life Option act have no possibility of a future. They are dying. This distinction is crucial to grasp. Those who choose Death with Dignity, as the law is called in other states, simply want control over just how much suffering they are willing to inflict on themselves and their families as their inevitable end is close.
Despite the pleas of Dolores Huerta, long-time Latino activist, and editorial support from “La Opinion” and from first-tier newspapers all over the state, the long arm of the church was apparently all the Assembly members needed to disregard the wishes of their constituents. The only option for those who want it is to lobby just as hard, withholding their support at the ballot box from legislators who ignore the will of their constituents. They should recognize that the Catholic Church doesn’t vote – Catholics do, and if these voters want this bill passed in the numbers the polls indicate, it is up to them to convince their representatives that it is not acceptable to impose personal beliefs on legislation that affects a large population that does not share their views.
Compassion & Choices, the leading organization concerned with end of life issues and a chief supporter of this bill, has indicated that the heat around it will only increase. They believe that, either through legislation, by judicial decision, or by ballot initiative, the End of Life Option Act will become law in California. All indications are that its time has come.