Dem split stalls right-to-die bill

capitol sacramentoUnder pressure from powerful faith-based constituencies, Southern California Democrats serving in the Assembly have broken rank with their party and halted its so-called “right-to-die bill,” which cleared the Senate early last month.

Unanticipated opposition

“The state Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday postponed a key vote on legislation that would allow adults with a terminal illness to seek medication from a doctor to end their lives,” the San Jose Mercury News reported, “raising doubts about the fate of the hotly contested bill.”

“Democrats representing the Bay Area who sit on the committee are expected to support the End of Life Option Act, but several Democratic members from Southern California remain undecided. And they’re facing intense pressure from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to vote no.”

In the wake of East Bay resident Brittany Maynard’s decision last year to end her life in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, SB128 was introduced by state Sens. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Bill Monning, D-Monterey. Northern California Democrats quickly lined up in support of the bill, although Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature is not guaranteed. “Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet said whether he would sign the bill,” the Washington Post noted, adding that SB128 “would make California the most populous state to allow physicians to write lethal prescriptions for dying patients.”

Catholic clout

The about-face indicated that Christian voters, including Democrats, possess more power to influence legislators than many observers and policymakers assumed. “The California Medical Association dropped its opposition to SB128, but the Catholic Church and other religious groups are still fighting it,” the Associated Press observed.

Apparently, however, one voice in particular had an outsized impact on key members of the health committee — that of Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, who sent out a letter insisting that SB128 must be opposed. Citing “dangerous implications for our state, especially the poor and the most vulnerable,” he urged legislators not to “allow California to become a place where we respond to human suffering by simply making it easier for people to kill themselves.”

At a requiem mass for the aborted conducted in January, Gomez struck a similar tone. “Only God, who is the Lord of our beginning and the Lord of our ending, can make the determination of the beginning and end of life,” he said. “If the child in the womb has no right to be born, if the sick and the old have no right to be taken care of, then there is no solid foundation to defend anyone’s human rights.”

Homing in on the same targets as Gomez, right-to-die advocates recently singled out several legislators who they hope to flip in their favor. According to the Pasadena Star-News, the Compassion & Choices organization “visited the offices of three Latino Catholic Assemblymen: Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles; Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina; and Freddie Rodriguez, D-Chino. About 30 people stood outside the West Covina district office Tuesday chanting ‘SB128! We can’t wait!’ and ‘Si se puede.’ Some held up signs saying, ‘It is my life. It is my death. Please respect my choice.'”

“Patricia Gonzalez-Portillo, spokeswoman for Compassion & Choices, cited an independent survey released last week that said 7 out of 10 Californians support the proposed legislation, including 70 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of Catholics.”

A second try

Meanwhile, Assembly Republicans nursed hopes of succeeding where their colleagues had failed. SB128 had passed the Senate over the objections of critics like state Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, who raised the specter of an influx of so-called death tourists. “What is going to be the new theme of the state of California?” he asked, according to CBS Sacramento. “Come play, live and die in California.”

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