California’s Catholic bishops rallied opponents of the state’s assisted suicide law on Tuesday to continue their efforts to correct lawmakers’ “grave mistake.” Though opponents failed to collect enough signatures for a state referendum, the bishops encouraged further work to defend the vulnerable.

The petition drive seeking to overturn the bill showed a strong commitment to protecting life “at all its stages,” Sacramento’s Bishop Jaime Soto, president of the California Catholic Conference, said Jan. 5. He said tens of thousands of Californians were “demanding the right to have a public voice in one of the most dangerous public policies ever enacted in California.” 

“Physician-assisted suicide is one of the many ways our society is gradually placing individual autonomy as the ultimate measure of public policies,” the bishop continued. “This is a grave mistake and a trend that we as Catholics must consistently and firmly question.”

He cited Pope Francis’ criticism of ideologies that weaken social bonds and fuel a “throwaway” mentality that “leads to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered ‘useless’.” 

On Oct. 5, 2015 Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law an assisted suicide bill that enabled doctors to prescribe drugs that will end the lives of patients whom doctors diagnose as having six months to live. The bill had been withdrawn from the State Senate but was revived in a special legislative session. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 23-14, while the State Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 42-33.

Bishop Soto said that assisted suicide opponents’ efforts during the regular session had stopped the advance of the bill.

“It was only through the manipulation of the legislative process that the bill eventually passed,” he said. “The initial defeat of the law — as well as the thousands of signatures gathered in the referendum effort — demonstrate that when the dangers of physician-assisted suicide are allowed to be properly aired, the concept is soundly rejected.”

“Advocates for the elderly, the disabled and the disadvantaged, physicians and other health care providers as well as many others understand the long-term menace of this law,” the bishop added.

He said the Catholic bishops would continue to work with the anti-assisted suicide coalition and with others “to explore ways of protecting the most vulnerable Californians from the pressure created by this new policy.”   California bishops are committed to explaining “the richness and love” of Catholic teaching on end-of-life issues, the bishop said. 

“As Christians, we are morally and ethically committed to promoting solidarity at all stages of life. We will continue to question this misguided libertarian push to make personal autonomy the ultimate arbitrator. We must help each other.”