AB 651 Suicide by any other name is suicide<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
By Mark Landsbaum
Medical advances and longer lives pose difficult questions. Should we pull the plug? May we starve to death someone in a coma? Are feeding tubes extraordinary medical treatment, or merely basic care? Christians can and do disagree.
But legislation pending in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Sacramento doesn't split such hairs. It's not about whether to pull a plug, or which machine to disconnect. It simply would make suicide legal, and protect doctors from prosecution, lawsuits and professional discipline if they prescribe poison.
You don't find respirators or feeding tubes in the Bible. But the Bible's clear on intentional killing of innocent people. It's a sin.
Assembly Bill 651 by Democrats Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine would change California law to permit an adult, whom a doctor has determined to be terminally ill, to request poison to kill himself and authorize a doctor to prescribe it. The bill would prohibit contracts, wills or health care plans from discriminating against such suicidal people. It would require the state to keep track of doctor-assisted killings, and report on them. Its authors claim the bill provides a "host" of safeguards, requiring a second doctor's opinion that the patient is terminal, two witnesses to the patient signing a request for poison, referral for psychological or psychiatric counseling when appropriate and the right of a patient to rescind the death wish at any time.
Proponents say AB 651 would give suffering people the "compassionate choice" to end their lives in a "humane" and "dignified" manner. After all, reason the bill's backers, everyone deserves an "autonomous choice" when it comes to dying.
Christians should find these arguments to be the vapid smokescreen they are. AB 651 would legalize self-murder, and permit doctors to provide the murder weapon. If you doubt it, check current laws. Today it's a felony to do what this bill would make legal.
Purposely killing people is fundamentally incompatible with doctors' sworn duty. Moreover, it's unnecessary to legalize suicide when patients already have the legal right to refuse medical treatment.
The bill is modeled after Oregon's seven-year-old doctor-assisted suicide law. In Oregon, Medicaid and insurance pay for suicide poison prescribed by doctors. The law has a built-in financial incentive for death. Healthcare plans have the option of paying thousands for medical treatment, or a $100 prescription for a patient to kill himself.
So-called "safeguards" amount to the fox watching the henhouse. Doctors willing to prescribe the poison are the same doctors who will decide whether suicide-seeking patients need psychiatric or psychological counseling. In Oregon, only 5 percent of those receiving suicide prescriptions are referred for such counseling.
Proponents claim the bill will make it illegal to "coerce" people into signing suicide requests. But there's no ban on "encouragement" or "suggestions" by relatives who may inherit or by medical plans that can save thousands. When does a suggestion become coercion? The bill doesn't say.
As in Oregon, people compiling the records would be the same people authorizing the suicides - doctors prescribing poison who may or may not have believed counseling was necessary. In Oregon, state officials concede the reporting process they rely on may be a "cock and bull story."
Also in Oregon, 95% of those opting to kill themselves with a doctor's prescription did so because they were depressed or feared losing control, not because they couldn't bear their pain.
What AB 651 actually would do is redefine "suicide" and "homicide," by saying what the bill authorizes no longer is considered either. The bill itself expressly says that what it authorizes is not "mercy killing or active euthanasia," even though current law and long-standing custom say that is precisely what it is.
The truth about AB 651 is that it would prohibit criminal punishment, civil liability and professional discipline against doctors performing acts that today would get them arrested, sued and kicked out of their profession.
AB 651 redefines language and reality. In ancient Canaan, when children were sacrificed on fiery altars, it wasn't called infanticide, it was called pleasing the gods. Isaiah reminds us, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil."
To achieve evil, the bill's backers simply call it something good. To call it what it is would be too horrific. The bill says, "nothing in this law constitutes homicide or suicide," then makes legal those very acts. The Orwellian language of AB 651 calls "suicide," "choice." Instead of "tragic," it calls it "dignified." Rather than "killing people," it says it's "compassionate." In the perverted language of AB 651, suicide and assisted suicide become "medical treatment." The bill calls "poison" "life-ending medication." The physicians' creed to "first do no harm" becomes "let us help to kill you."
The usual suspects line up for and against. Supporting doctor-assisted suicide are the ACLU and the California National Organization for Women. Opposed are the California Family Alliance, the California Hospital Association, National Right to Life Committee and Physicians for Compassionate Care, among others.
Most worrisome is that 70% of Californians reportedly favor doctor-assisted suicide. Unless their legislators are persuaded otherwise, California will become the second state legally to declare that evil is good.
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