Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Why a special session on right-to-die?

The stubborn push to legalize assisted suicide in California persists. It was blocked in the Assembly Health Committee, but supporters have a liberal state on their side and a special legislative session at their disposal.

Here is where they make their move. Here is where they bypass pesky legislators who question the ethics of whether doctors should be allowed to kill people or not.

In a special session, the passage of a law can be expedited. In this special session, the health committee studying the bill will not include Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and other Democrats who balked at previous efforts to legalize assisted suicide earlier this year.

With them out of the way, supporters are focusing on the Catholic Church and people of faith who oppose the right-to-die movement. Faith leaders and Catholic lay people are easily dismissed as zealots in the court of public opinion. People ask why a faith stood silent about pedophiles within its own ranks but objects to a law that would marry death with compassion.

“If I were the Catholic Church, I’d back off right now,” said Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, author of Senate Bill 128, the End-of-Life Option Act that stalled in the Assembly months ago.

Monning’s words demean Catholic lay people, Catholic health care workers, homeless volunteers, nuns, priests, deacons and others who do great work in this community and around the world. But this focus on the Catholic Church and others is meant to create a smoke screen, one that conceals the fact that opposition to California’s right-to-die movement also includes disabled advocates, patients-rights groups and organizations representing oncologists and other medical professionals.

“I’m progressive liberal, a George McGovern liberal, but this issue transcends political boundaries,” said Walter Newman, a Silicon Valley doctor who is an outspoken opponent of assisted suicide. “I don’t think a doctor should be able to kill a patient.”

In his more than 30 years as a doctor, Newman said he has eased the pain of terminal patients in their final days. He has agreed with some patients when they chose to forgo chemotherapy and hasten their inevitable deaths. But that’s a world apart from allowing doctors to prescribe drugs to end the life of a patient.

“It’s a matter of intent,” Newman said. “This would allow a special class of people, a doctor, to prescribe death. … I know how to treat strep throat. I don’t know how to kill a patient.”

Gov. Jerry Brown called this special session because he wanted the Legislature to deal with issues important to him. Backers of assisted suicide used the opportunity to reintroduce their bill. The speculation is that the issue will breeze through committee and be approved on the Assembly floor. Brown said he didn’t think sneaking assisted suicide through the Capitol in a special session was the way to go. Does that mean he’d veto the issue? He won’t say.

Sacramento being Sacramento, much of the discussion on right-to-die has been about the politics, the tricky way a bill stalled in the Legislature is suddenly revived. Are we really that jaded? And are we so blinded by liberal conventional wisdom on assisted suicide that we close our eyes and pretend that such a profound issue can be legislated so simply?

What if there are mistakes or abuses? How do you fix the damage caused by misguided compassion?

Marcos Breton: 916-321-1096, mbreton@sacbee.com, @MarcosBreton

Editor’s Note: This column was revised on Aug. 27, 2015, to remove an inaccurate description of the reach of the privacy provisions included in Assembly Bill X2-15.

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