On June 9, California becomes the fifth state in the nation to allow doctors to prescribe lethal medications for patients who ask for them.

With the new “End of Life Options” law we are crossing a line — from being a society that cares for those who are aging and sick, to a society that kills those whose suffering we can no longer tolerate.

Our government leaders tell us that granting the right to choose a doctor-prescribed death is compassionate and will comfort the elderly and persons facing terminal and chronic illness.

But killing is not caring. 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.

Assisted suicide represents a failure of solidarity and will only increase the sense of isolation and loneliness that many people already feel in our society. With this new law, we are abandoning our most vulnerable and frail neighbors — dismissing them as “not worthy” of our care and as a “drain” on our limited social resources.

This new law will worsen the inequalities in our health care system. The poor elderly already have far fewer treatment options and far less access to palliative care and nursing home services.

In a state where millions are forced to rely on government-subsidized care, who can imagine the government will continue paying for months and perhaps years of costly treatments rather than prescribing a cheap bottle of suicide pills?

And faced with growing numbers of elderly suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, how long will it be before we start hearing appeals to offer “compassionate choices” for those who can no longer choose or speak for themselves?

This is the danger of this new law: the death that some demand for themselves today may become a “choice” that many will not be able to refuse tomorrow.

The logic of assisted suicide leads inevitably to the government and corporate administrators essentially deciding which lives are worth saving and caring for and who would be better off dead. The criteria for such decisions will always be arbitrary and the process will always mean the strong and powerful deciding the fate of those who are weak and less influential in society. This is the beginning of tyranny.

Californians deserve and should demand better from our lawmakers. Giving doctors a license to kill is not leadership on health care.

On June 9, when this new law takes effect, we will still have all the same problems that make people afraid to grow old or become sick or disabled in California today.

We will still have a health insurance system that prices pain-relief medication beyond the reach of ordinary people and makes it nearly impossible for them to receive the palliative care and other services they need to live their final days with dignity.

On June 9, workers in nursing homes will still be overworked and underpaid and their working conditions will make it difficult for them to provide quality medical care with excellence and compassion. Medical schools still will not be providing future doctors and health professionals with proper training in palliative care and end-of-life treatment.  

These are the real issues that make the prospect of terminal illness and dying so frightening to people in California. I appeal to thoughtful leaders in the legislature and medical profession — now is the time to come together and begin to decisively address these issues.

I also appeal to physicians, nurses, health administrators, hospitals and care facilities — this new law protects your rights of conscience. It does not compel your cooperation or participation.  

The proper response to an unjust law is conscientious objection. And this is an unjust law.

Helping patients to kill themselves denies patients their dignity and diminishes the humanity of those entrusted to care for them. Medical professionals are called to be servants of life, not dispensers of death.

All of us in California need to pray and work to rebuild a culture of human dignity in the face of this unjust law. We need to proclaim and demonstrate by our actions — that all human life is precious and sacred and is worthy of our care and protection, from conception to natural death.

A person does not stop being a person, does not lose his or her dignity or right to life,  — just because he or she loses certain physical or mental capacities. Indeed, it is when people are most vulnerable that they are most in need of our compassion and love.

Let us pray for our great State of California as we enter this new moment.

May God give all of us the courage to do what is right. And may our Blessed Mother Mary help us to see that everyone is a child of God and that we are all brothers and sisters called to love and care for one another.

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