California PAS Bill Passes State Senate Committee

That’s the page 1 story in my local paper this morning (Thursday, March 26).  The California State Senate Health Committee passed SB 128 by a 6-2 margin.  The debate was accompanied by the usual testimonials, including one videotaped by Brittany Maynard before her suicide.

Opponents raised appropriate arguments against the bill.  Perhaps the key statement was made by Dr. Warren Fong, president of the Medical Oncology Association of Southern California, who said that physician-assisted suicide “is against everything a physician stands for.”

Bingo.  The key argument against PAS, in my view, is that it fundamentally alters the nature of medicine by abolishing the Hippocratic divide between the healer and the executioner.  This is a more essential argument than the (also correct) consequentialist arguments about the risks of abuse, etc., about which I have posted on several occasions in the past.  Note also that, even if one’s motivation against PAS is ultimately driven by a belief in God, theism is not required to adopt the position that Dr. Fong took.  As such, it is not “epistemologically privileged” in any way that can be disqualified from public policy-making on grounds of liberal neutrality, nor is opposition to PAS simply a matter of my “imposing my morality” on someone else.

Legalizing PAS would be a terrible mistake.  Regrettably, my paper says that a recent poll it took in San Diego, where I live, showed that 56 percent of those polled would support this bill, 26 percent would oppose it, and 16 percent were not sure. 

Yipes.

Next step is the California Senate Judiciary Committee.  After that, passage of both houses of the legislature is required, then the governor’s signature.  I certainly plan to beseech my representatives, and the governor, to oppose SB 128.  Governor Brown is said to have studied for a time, years ago, to be a Catholic priest, so it may not be a slam-dunk even if it gets to his desk.

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Jon HolmlundBarry Orvell, MDSteve PhillipsCarol Eblen Recent comment authors
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Barry Orvell, MD
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Barry Orvell, MD

In quoting Dr. Fong, on his testimony that a physician is healer I would ask “What is the role of a healer when faced with a dying patient? How does the Healer comfort the dying and ready them to accept this part of the process of their time in the world?” And should the Healer stand in opposition to the person who is about to die and who requests an end to his suffering? I am a retired physician in favor of asstance in dying. I was at the Senate committee hearing and Dr. Fong also said that not one… Read more »

Carol Eblen
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Carol Eblen

Unfortunately, PAS will mean many premature deaths and further sanction of the involuntary euthanasia of the elderly/disabled/poor on both Medicaid and Medicare as orginal Medicare is transformed to a huge Health Maintenance Organization where profits will be protected for Big Insurance by refusing life-sustaining treatments as non beneficial. PAS is the fastest, cheapest, and less burdensome FINAL solution for Medicaid, Medicare, Big Insurance, the patient, the family, and the heirs. PAS and Hospice will be the ONLY option when Hospice is no longer an option, a choice, but the ONLY option and choice open to Medicare/Medicaid patients. The trial conducted… Read more »

Steve Phillips
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I believe that the truly compassionate physician says to the patient who is dying and is considering PAS “Your life has value even if you are unable to see that right now. I will be with you and help you live your life the best that you can for the time you have left. I care about you too much to say that your life has no value by helping you kill yourself.”

Barry Orvell, MD
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Barry Orvell, MD

A greed some insurance companies are the villains, somewhat and I agree with Phillip “human life has value always”. But when we consider that 1. the patients suffereing and will soon die no matter what is done. Some cancers are pretty bad esp. when in bone, or brain. The onlymercy is sedation to unconsciouness. The metaphor of the burning building : The flames arrive at the 70th floor. I have only 2 options. Death by fire (my original diagnosis) or quick death by jumping out the window. Is this suicide? Would you hope that the person stick around. As far… Read more »

Carol Eblen
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Carol Eblen

Yes, of course. The patient who has received an honest terminal diagnosis should have the right and does have the right under the law of the 1991 Patient Self Determination Act to shorten his/her life by refusing life-sustaining treatment, including food and water. But, the 1991 PSDA is being circumvented both in terms of “right to die” and “right to live.” The Congress, under both political parties, have failed to clarify the provisions of the law of the PSDA and the states have interpreted the PSDA in many different ways. Under the PSDA, unilateral Do Not Resuscitate Code Status is… Read more »

Jon Holmlund
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Jon Holmlund

Thanks to all for the comments. I’ve been meaning to respond but keep putting it off because of my day job, etc… Dr. Orvell, I particularly appreciate your participation here, and I think your points call for a more detailed response, probably in the form of a reprise of points I’ve made on this blog in the past, than fits in the comments section. I intend to do that with my next post of this coming Thursday–and, I must confess, I intend to challenge you and insist that the burden of proof rests with those who take your position to… Read more »