Doctors in California will soon be allowed to assist in the suicide of terminally ill patients, if the 2015 “End of Life Option Act” (SB 128) continues to garner support across the state.

On March 25, the California State Senate Health Committee approved the physician-assisted suicide bill with a 6-2 approval vote and one absent vote. The Judiciary and Appropriations Committee voted 5-2 to approve the bill April 7. It will need the support of the full California Senate to become law.

State Senators Lois Wolk (3rd Senate District) and Bill Monning (17th Senate District) proposed the 14-page state senate bill, based on Oregon’s physician assisted suicide bill of 1997.

Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, strongly opposed the bill, saying in a press release, “We understand and share the concern for the dying expressed at today’s hearing.” However, he said that the bill showed misplaced compassion.

“When someone asks for assistance in killing themselves, it is really a call for help, care and compassion during the dying process.”

While the Catholic Church teaches that the sick must have the means to alleviate their suffering and the right to refuse extraordinary means for prolonging their life, directly ending someone’s life is never permissible.

In a press conference at the State Capitol in Sacramento, State Senator Wolk said the bill would “allow terminally ill, mentally competent Californians the option to request and obtain a prescription from their physician for aid in dying.”

The bill states that the “aid-in-dying medication” would take effect in three hours, though the time could vary. Before prescribing the drug, two physicians would need to confirm the patient’s prognosis as six months or less to live.

Pharmacists would then need to release the suicide drug to the patient once notified by the attending physician. The bill will also allow the drug to be delivered via Federal Express and United States Postal Service, among other delivery systems.

The underlying terminal illness would appear on the death certificate without any mention of the “aid-in-dying medication.”

Dolejsi referenced the Hippocratic Oath in his opposing argument saying, “Since Ancient Greece, doctors have been called to bring comfort, peace and minimal pain to the dying, not death. With the development of such medical specialties as palliative care, the art and science of caring and comforting the dying has never been so well developed and practiced.”

Senator Wolk acknowledged that “there is a full range of options available to people in the final stages of a terminal illness: other treatment, pain management, comfort care and hospice.” She said the end-of-life option would be an addition to this list.

Senator Wolk stressed that physicians and other Californians will only participate in assisted suicide on a voluntary basis.

However, under California’s “Right-to-Know Act” AB 2139, medical providers must inform terminally ill patients of all their end-of-life options. Therefore under the newly proposed law, physicians would be legally obliged to suggest assisted suicide to terminally ill patients. Governor Jerry Brown signed the “Right-to-Know Act” into law on Sept. 26, 2014.

States with similar assisted suicide laws include Washington, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Oregon.

Dolejsi said every jurisdiction allowing assisted suicide witnesses a steady expansion of individuals eligible to end their life. “The ‘safeguards’ in SB 128 are illusory precisely because they are arbitrarily set, with no sound medical rationale.”

He added that many countries around the world allowed assisted suicide in a few, rare instances and have demonstrated where the slippery slope leads.

“In some countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, for instance, we are witnessing the expansion of assisted suicide to non-terminal patients, those with dementia and even children.”

Dolejsi promised to continue opposing the bill. “The California Catholic Conference will continue to actively and vigorously oppose this bill,” he said.

The California Catholic Conference acts as the public advocacy office for the bishops of California, including Archbishop Jóse H. Gómez. The office represents more than 10 million Catholics across the state of California.