LOS ANGELES — With California now allowing doctors to prescribe lethal medications for terminally ill patients who ask for them, “we are crossing a line,” said the archbishop of Los Angeles.
With the state’s new “End of Life Options” law legalizing assisted suicide, the nation has crossed “from being a society that cares for those who are aging and sick to a society that kills those whose suffering we can no longer tolerate,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.
“Our government leaders tell us that granting the right to choose a doctor-prescribed death is compassionate and will comfort the elderly and persons facing terminal and chronic illness,” he said in a statement June 8, the day before the law took effect.
“Killing is not caring,” Archbishop Gomez said. “True compassion means walking with those who are suffering, sharing their pain, helping them bear their burdens. Loving your neighbor as yourself is not a duty we fulfill by giving our neighbor a lethal dose of pills.”
California becomes the fifth state in the nation to legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Oregon was the first state, in 1994, followed by Washington and Vermont. The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that physicians in that state may prescribe lethal drugs to the competent terminally ill.
Archbishop Gomez called the California law unjust and said the “proper response to an unjust law is conscientious objection.”
Helping patients kill themselves denies them “their dignity and diminishes the humanity of those entrusted to care for them,” he said. “Medical professionals are called to be servants of life, not dispensers of death.”
“Giving doctors a license to kill is not leadership on health care,” he added.
He urged Californians “to pray and work to rebuild a culture of human dignity in the face of this unjust law.”
“We need to proclaim and demonstrate by our actions — that all human life is precious and sacred and is worthy of our care and protection, from conception to natural death.”
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the “End of Life Options” measure into law last October despite staunch opposition from doctors, religious leaders and advocates of disability rights.
At the time, Brown, who is Catholic, said he considered the theological and religious perspectives about the “deliberate shortening of one’s life” and discussed the issue with a Catholic bishop, his own doctors, former classmates and friends before signing the legislation.
“The crux of the matter is whether the state of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life, no matter how great his pain or suffering,” he said in a statement when he signed the bill.
Opponents of the law immediately set out on a referendum drive, but fell short of gaining the 365,880 signatures needed to place their proposal on the November 2016 ballot.
Joining the Catholic Church in opposing it were groups such as Not Dead Yet and Californians Against Assisted Suicide.
Supporters said they expected that the new law would have a ripple effect across the nation, with more states legalizing assisted suicide.
“Assisted suicide represents a failure of solidarity and will only increase the sense of isolation and loneliness that many people already feel in our society,” Archbishop Gomez said in his statement. “With this new law, we are abandoning our most vulnerable and frail neighbors — dismissing them as ‘not worthy’ of our care and as a ‘drain’ on our limited social resources.”
The new law “will worsen the inequalities in our health care system,” he added. “The poor and elderly already have far fewer treatment options and far less access to palliative care and nursing home services.”
He said it was not hard to imagine “in a state where millions are forced to rely on government-subsidized care” that the government would decide to no longer pay for years of costly treatments when doctors could prescribe “a cheap bottle of suicide pills.”
With the growing number of elderly suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, he wondered how long it will be “before we start hearing appeals to offer ‘compassionate choices’ for those who can no longer choose or speak for themselves?”
“The logic of assisted suicide leads inevitably to the government and corporate administrators essentially deciding which lives are worth saving and caring for and who would be better off dead,” Archbishop Gomez said. “The criteria for such decisions will always be arbitrary and the process will always mean the strong and powerful deciding the fate of those who are weak and less influential in society. This is the beginning of tyranny.”