It is with heavy hearts that we at the CBC report that Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law ABx2 15. California becomes the fifth state to allow physician assisted suicide after Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont.
In his signing message to the California State Assembly, Governor Brown states that he weighed the arguments of those who support and those who oppose physician assisted suicide and concluded that he could not deny those dying and in “prolonged and excruciating pain” the right to end their lives.
CBC Board Member, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Irvine, who has worked tirelessly to oppose AB x 2 15 said:
Naturally, I’m very disappointed that Governor Brown signed into law today legislation that will permit doctor assisted suicide in California. His letter stating why he signed the bill indicated that he made his decision in the end based upon what he would want in the face of his own death, and suggesting that while he might not avail himself of this option he would want it available.
Among the many problems with this reasoning is this: Governor Brown is among the socially and economically privileged Californians who are least likely to be adversely impacted by this legislation—with access to the best healthcare and plenty of financial resources. But he has a responsibility not only for the impact of the legislation on him, or on those like him, but on all Californians. Those others who are economically and socially marginalized, who do not have access to even decent medical care, will be vulnerable to pressures to accept this cheap and expedient “option” for dealing with difficult, complex, and frequently expensive situations at the end of life. We have to look at the impact of this law not only for ourselves or for those close to us. We need to look at how it will impact the common good, on how it will affect healthcare institutions and the entire practice of medicine for patients at the end of life.
Only just today, a study by Jones and Paton in the Southern Medical Journal demonstrates that the permissive assisted suicide laws in Washington and Oregon have led in those states to at least a 6% rise in overall suicide rates. While this study was not published in time to impact the debates in California, hopefully other states will take into account this and other studies that demonstrate the negative impacts on public health from such legislation. Suicide is among the health-related behaviors that tend to spread from person to person through social networks, up to three degrees of separation. We know also that publicized cases lead to clusters of copycat cases. A Swiss study in 2003, for example, indicated evidence for suicide contagion following media reports of doctor-assisted suicide. Furthermore, the law itself is a teacher. These laws communicate the message that under especially difficult circumstances, some lives are not worth living. This message will be heard by not only those with a terminal illness but also any person struggling with the temptation to end his or her own life.
We at the CBC reject policy that suggests people have a right to die, that medicine should be corrupted to include killing as part of patient care, and that exposes the vulnerable among us to schemes that suggest assisted suicide is a compassionate choice to those in need of care.
- Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.