Giving legal sanction to deliberately killing the sick is wrong

Ben Boychuk
Ben Boychuk

Jerry Brown wants you to know he’s against human extinction. “We have to take measured steps against an uncertain future which may well be something no one ever wants,” the governor told an audience of mayors from around the world at a Vatican conference on global climate change in July.

Brown also dislikes the death penalty, though he doesn’t make as much of it as he once did. In his first political iteration, Brown vetoed legislation in 1977 to restore the death penalty, calling it a “matter of conscience.” The Legislature overrode that veto, but Brown’s position seems to have carried the day, in practice at least.

Now the governor has another matter of conscience before him, and a profound one at that. Will he sign the bill that makes California the fifth state in the nation to legalize assisted suicide?

Put another way, will Brown give his assent and place the state’s imprimatur on a law that makes it easier to kill the sick, the aged, the poor, the underinsured and the helpless?

Because that’s really what we’re talking about when we talk about ABX 2-15, the “End of Life Option Act” – a fitting name for a bill that emphasizes only one option.

Whether it’s a doctor administering drugs to end a patient’s life or a patient taking the drugs himself, we are talking about a premeditated and deliberate act of killing.

Lawmakers passed the bill in a special session dedicated to fixing Medi-Cal. The earlier version of the bill, Senate Bill 128, had foundered in committee over the summer. Many Democrats – including a few who call themselves pro-choice Catholics – could not in good conscience vote for a bill that endorses ending people’s lives.

The bill passed because its sponsors added some language that supposedly beefs up safeguards against doctors or patients’ relatives abusing the law by overriding their loved one’s wishes. And the law is supposed to sunset after 10 years.

Not good enough. Law usually follows culture, but once in a while culture follows law. There are some things the state must never, ever countenance. We need to be compassionate with the suffering and give succor to the dying. But giving legal sanction to deliberately killing the weak and the sick is wrong.

Suicide is not the only policy option here, and certainly not the best. Also awaiting Brown’s signature or veto is Assembly Bill 374, which would give doctors additional leverage with insurance companies and HMOs that insist on exhausting cheap therapies before approving more effective – but potentially more expensive – treatments.

A law that could actually save and extend lives – imagine that.

The governor can be so frustrating on these questions. How often do we hear liberal Catholic politicians chide conservatives for their supposed inconsistency on matters of life and death? Brown regularly excoriates Republicans who disagree with him that the solution to climate change requires a wholesale reordering of the state’s economy.

The governor might well say that just as the state has a duty to remedy the suffering of millions by imposing mandates for renewable energy and decarbonizing the economy, so the state has a duty to let people alleviate their own suffering with a doctor’s needle or a handful of pills.

But the state is supposed to protect life, not hasten its end. Isn’t that why he’s so passionate about fighting climate change?

I keep thinking about Brown’s address at the Vatican in July. “God is not mocked,” he said, quoting St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It is inexorable. It is absolute. It offers no compromise.

Brown frets about the potentially baleful effects of climate change two or three generations hence, but there can be no doubt about the purpose and effect of the assisted suicide bill sitting under his nose. If Brown is true to his stated convictions, a veto is his only option.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Contact him at