Source: The Sacramento Bee

In a special session, the passage of a law can be expedited. In this special session, the Assembly Health Committee studying the bill will not include 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.”

The most recent version of the right-to-die legislation in California contains language that should concern all of us – not just people of faith.

In the latest right-to-die bill – Assembly Bill X2-15 – a provision describes the privacy rights of all those participating in a suicide prescribed by a doctor. But then it goes further: “The information shall not be disclosed, discoverable, or compelled to be produced in any civil, criminal, administrative, or other proceeding.”

Rita Marker, a lawyer with the advocacy group Patients Rights Council, wrote: “Nothing in any other state proposal (for the right to die) has ever contained this type of language.”

What if a family member finds out that a loved one who chose the right to die was coerced? Currently, “medical records are subject to peer review and audits by insurance companies or medical boards,” Newman said.

But what if right-to-die records are not discoverable or subject to court or administrative review? “That’s the scary part,” Newman said. “There is no right way to do the wrong thing.”

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 to the critical details and pretend that such a profound issue can be legislated so simply?

California’s right-to-die legislation is promoted as protecting the rights of patients. But it seems that doctors are the ones who are protected by the language of what would be the law.

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