Californians warned of involuntary euthanasia
Opponents of assisted-suicide bill point to Netherlands experience
WorldNetDaily | April 14, 2005
Opponents of California's physician-assisted suicide bill warned during testimony to a sharply divided legislative panel that the state could find itself in the position of the Netherlands, where a similar law has led to involuntary euthanasia.
The measure cleared its first hurdle Tuesday, passing the Assembly Judiciary Committee by a 5-4 vote. Currently, Oregon is the only state that allows doctors to prescribe medication to hasten the deaths of terminally ill adults. But the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on a challenge to the law by the Bush administration.
Dr. John Whiffen, a board member for the California Family Council, a Christian advocacy group, told the panel that in the Netherlands, more than 25 percent of physician-assisted deaths were done at the request of the family or physician, not the patient. More than 60 percent of instances are not reported to authorities, studies estimate.
The data from Oregon is not as well developed, Whiffen said, but anecdotal reports indicate a similar trend.
Whiffen argued the problem can be easily solved without resorting to assisted suicide, by employing palliative care and medication.
"There is no reason for anyone to die in uncontrollable pain," he said.
Dr. Miller, an oncologist, concurred, calling the bill "the wrong answer to the right question."
The public needs to be more informed, he said, asserting improved training and more comprehensive palliative care is a better answer.
He described the measure as "bad law, bad ethics, and bad medicine."
One of the bill's authors, Democratic Assemblywoman Patty Berg, argued the measure is all about "autonomy" and the "fundamental right to privacy," pointing out polls showing 70 percent of Californians support physician-assisted suicide.
Responding to opponents who fear a slippery slope, Berg labeled the argument a "straw man."
But Republican Assemblyman Ray Haynes pointed to developments in the Netherlands and noted that although the amended bill includes certain "safeguards," one glaring omission is that a conservator can make a life or death decision for another person.
A co-author of the bill, Democrat Lloyd Levine, said he and Berg would consider addressing that in an amendment.
Dr. Kenneth Stevens, an Oregon cancer specialist, told the panel "pain is not the issue."
He could not find one instance in Oregon of people taking the suicide medication to alleviate pain, contending lives were being ended for emotional reasons.
Stevens cited several cases of botched suicides because no physician was present, and said there are even cases of people who had the life-ending drugs administered to them, despite safeguards spelled out in the law.
According to the Oregon health department's most recent statistics, 208 people have died by assisted suicide.
Modeled on Oregon's law, the California measure would make assisted suicide available to mentally competent adults diagnosed with less than six months to live.
The patient would have to orally ask his doctor twice for the fatal drugs, more than two weeks apart, in addition to a written request.
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