A new effort is underway to legalize physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill in California. But doctors, lawmakers and disability rights advocates - like the public – are divided on the issue.
Monday, February 7, 2005
Stacie Lautrup of Sacramento faced an emotional dilemma two years ago when her 54 –year old mother was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Lautrup’s mother had said many times she did not want to linger when the end was near, and would like a pill to bring death quickly. Lautrup says instead, both patient and family were forced to witness a long and agonizing decline
CUT: Stacie17 :17
You know when the quality of life is gone, you can’t talk, you can’t eat, you can’t smile. She couldn’t even kiss us or hug us. And that was the hardest part, I think, for her, you know, in the end, she just wanted us to be close and she couldn’t even kiss us. And to just lay there and not have any control over it, I don’t think that that’s fair.
In response to stories from people like Stacie Lautrup, California lawmakers are taking another look at legalizing assisted suicide. On Friday, the Assembly’s Aging and Long Term Care Committee held a hearing on the issue. Among those testifying was Steve Mason, the poet laureate of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who is facing a painful death as cancer slowly eats away at his body. Mason says he yearns for a quick and painless end.
An Oregon resident, he’s pinning his hopes on that state’s seven year old Death with Dignity Act.
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This is not anything but a civil rights issue. This is no way should be about theocracy. This is about democracy.
Democratic Assemblywoman Patty Berg and fellow Democrat Lloyd Levine are co-authors of the new California Death with Dignity Act. Berg says, like the Oregon law, their bill will require careful screening of patients who want a doctor’s assistance in dying.
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They have to be psychologically competent. So they have to be mentally competent. Two physicians have to approve the diagnosis and that is terminally ill, less than six months to live. There’s a fifteen day waiting period. You have to make no t only a written request, but two oral requests. So there’s a lot of checks and balances, and time.
This isn’t the first time physician-assisted death has been debated in California. State voters rejected a similar concept at the polls in 1992. Six years ago, a bill to implement Oregon’s plan in California was introduced, but the bill never made it to a vote in the Assembly. Former Democratic Assemblywoman Dion Aroner introduced that legislation. She says opposition from the Catholic Church helped to sidetrack it. Aroner believes opposition is growing.
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The floor of the state legislature is getting more and more Catholic, I believe, and I mean that with a capital “C”. In that as more and more representatives of the Latino community come in, most of them are from the Catholic faith, and so their faith still tells them that this is not appropriate.
The California Medical Association and disability rights groups have voiced their opposition to assisted suicide. California Catholic Conference Executive Director Ned Dolesji (duh LESS see) says the church will work with other opponents to defeat legislation allowing assisted suicide, which he calls a violation of God’s Law.
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Then theological position is that life is gift from God, and we don’t throw that gift back. You know, we treasure it. We cherish it, and we give it back in glory to God.
Circumstances at the Capitol have changed from six years ago. There’s a different set of lawmakers and a new governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger is Catholic, yet he’s taken a number of positions on social issues that are opposed by the Church. Another factor is that Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act has been in place for over seven years. In that time, 171 people used its provisions to end their own lives. Advocates say there’s a proven track record that it works.
The Death with Dignity, Doctor - Assisted Suicide bill will be introduced in the Assembly later this month. If it’s defeated again, some backers say they’ll begin another effort to put the question before state voters.