California Thinly Veils Euthanasia

The California Assembly recently passed AB2747, a bill that entitles those with less than one year to live or diagnosed with a terminal illness to receive information on end-of-life options from their physician if they request it. This may sound innocent on its face, but digging into the legislation a bit reveals the horrendous nature of what this bill actually approves.

If the health care provider does not want to provide the information to the patient, he can make a referral instead! While this is a violation of conscience for the ethical physician, I will comment on that later. First, I'd like to discuss the bill’s recommendations of options for end of life care. They are:

  • Palliative and/or hospice care
  • Palliative sedation (otherwise known as terminal sedation)
  • Refusal or withdrawal of life sustaining treatment
  • Voluntary stopping of eating and drinking

If this sounds acceptable to you, perhaps you need to review the definitions. For example, "'Refusal or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments' means forgoing treatment or medical procedures that replace or support an essential bodily function, including, but not limited to, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, artificial nutrition and hydration, dialysis and any other treatment or discontinuing any or all of those treatments after they have been used for a reasonable time."

Let us not forget that the use of a ventilator is sometimes the only way to provide comfort for a dying patient. We also know that the provision of nutrition and hydration protects the patient from the pain and agony caused by starving to death. The only exception that would be morally acceptable to this would be if the patient’s body simply could not process the nutrition or hydration or if the provision of either caused undue pain.

Clearly, these ethical principles are not the foundation for California’s legislation. I say this because the author of the legislation, state Assemblywoman Patty Berg has long been an advocate of various forms of euthanasia. She was described by Time magazine on May 28, 2005 as a lawmaker who was pressing for legalization of doctor-assisted suicide. At that time Berg said, "Aid in dying happens in every state. We need to bring it out of the closet, impose legal safeguards and careful oversight."

In 2007 Berg revived her attempt to decriminalize euthanasia in a proposal the Death with Dignity National Center identified as the Compassionate Choices Act. The bill was an exact model of Oregon’s physician assisted suicide bill.

Even the secular news reporting agency, Times-Standard On Line, defined "palliative sedation" in precisely the way the legislation does:

The practice of administering sedative medication to the point of rendering a patient unconscious as a way to alleviate intense pain and other clinical symptoms.

This is predicated on the subjective opinions of those medical professionals in attendance, of course, and is a definition that is easily abused. For, as Nancy Valko, R.N. has written:

While some euthanasia supporters have called Terminal Sedation "inhumane" compared with a faster death by a lethal overdose, other supporters view TS as a way of getting around the 'problem' of the euthanasia movement's inability – so far – to convince voters or state legislatures to enact Oregon-style assisted suicide laws.

Increasingly, TS is being incorporated into some hospice and other "end of life" programs, even though, as writer Brian Johnston points out, euthanasia supporters like Doctor David Orentlicher are admitting in prestigious medical journals that "terminal sedation is tantamount to euthanasia, or a kind of slow euthanasia."

Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families told the media, upon the narrow passage of this bill by the California Assembly,

Just as the assisted-suicide bills of the last three years have been rejected, so should the California Legislature reject AB 2747. Assisted suicide by total sedation ignores the sanctity of human life and violates life-affirming medical ethics. People who are ill need support, spiritual care and counseling if they're depressed. But AB 2747 would ensure the death of innocent Californians at the hands of an increasingly unscrupulous insurance industry that regards people cheaper dead than alive.

Indeed, that is precisely the problem. The ethical practice of medicine, which is based on using every precaution to preserve life and provide comfort care, will be replaced by the grotesque practice of redefining compassion as the active pursuit of death.