On Oct. 5, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the End of Life Option Act, allowing terminally ill patients to choose to end their lives via physican-assisted suicide. The bill will go into effect next year, concluding a 23-year battle to legalize a “right-to-die” law in California.
California is the fifth state to pass such a measure.
Gov. Brown, a one-time Jesuit seminarian, signed the bill despite pleas to the contrary. In a statement, Gov. Brown said, “I have considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one’s life is sinful.”
Despite advancements in palliative care, Gov. Brown decided in favor of the bill after considering his own death.
“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” he said. “I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by the bill. And I wouldn’t deny the right to others.”
In his statement, Archbishop José H. Gomez called Brown’s decision “deeply disturbing.”
“This is the wrong decision for California. How wrong this decision is will be measured in the lives that will be lost in the years to come — the lives of poor people, the elderly, the disabled and those who are dependent on public assistance,” he said.
“We need to be clear about what this law means,” the archbishop continued. “Today the State of California is making it legal for a doctor to write prescriptions for the express purpose of killing another human being.”
The Catholic Church, wishing to avoid prolonged and excruciating pain, teaches that painkillers are permissible even if the use of painkillers shortens a dying person’s life. However, “tradition clearly and strongly affirms that as a responsible steward of life one must never directly intend to cause one’s own death, or the death of an innocent victim, by action or omission,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The California Catholic Conference came out in strong opposition to the bill. The organization released a statement saying, “We believe that the people of California would be better served if statewide public policies focused more closely on substantive ways to improve the quality and access of health care for the residents of our state.”
Frank Lee, president of the Organization for Justice and Equality, warned that the new bill would be embraced as a cost-effective measure to end-of-life care.
“It will make it much easier for hospitals and insurance companies to demand patients to agree to be killed. Why have people been using such resources to push this bill through the years? There is major profit motive behind it,” he said. “Hospitals, insurance companies and pension plans will be able to evade their responsibilities to us.”