Thursday, March 21, 2024

A Short History of Assisted Suicide; Is Canadian Style Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia Coming to California?

By Diane Coleman 

A California State Senator, Catherine Blakespear, introduced a bill (SB 1196) earlier this month that resembles Canada’s law and, here in the U.S., reflects the broad agenda openly espoused by the Hemlock Society and Final Exit Network. The agenda of these organizations has long included eligibility for people with non-terminal conditions and disabilities.

When Not Dead Yet activists joined me in attending Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian’s trial in the late 1990s, Hemlock’s executive director Faye Girsh was there supporting him. Two thirds of his body count consisted of people with non-terminal disabilities. Girsh also advocated eligibility for people with cognitive disabilities and dementia, with or without consent. Leaders also advocated active euthanasia and “mercy killing.”

In time, these organizations evolved, split, regrouped and from them emerged Compassion and Choices, eclipsing the remains of the other organizations. Compassion and Choices was smarter and took a step-by-step approach to changing public policy. As their first executive director, Barbara Coombs Lee (who did not publicly support Kevorkian) has said, eligibility expansions are “an issue for another day.” Their focus has been on passing Oregon-style assisted suicide bills in more states which, as written, require nothing to address the reasons people request assisted suicide and preclude gathering data on how many people are coloring how far outside the lines. Nothing to see here. Please pass more bills.

So it surprised me a little to see a California Senator introduce a bill (SB 1196) in a state where assisted suicide is already legal, a bill that would blow eligibility wide open by replacing the term “terminal disease” with [a] “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” defined as a medical condition that (1) is a serious and incurable illness or disease, (2) has placed the individual in a state of irreversible decline in capability, (3) is causing the individual to endure physical or psychological suffering due to the illness, disease, or state of decline that is intolerable to the individual and cannot be relieved in a manner the individual deems acceptable, and (4) after taking into account all of the individual’s medical circumstances, it is reasonably foreseeable that the condition will become the individual’s natural cause of death.**

So much for us here at NDY, and millions of disabled people. No more suicide prevention for us. It’s been, well, a generation since assisted suicide proponents in the U.S. have made it so very obvious that disabled people are targeted by these laws. They’ve been trying to claim it’s not about us. They say disability alone is not enough to be eligible. Never mind that everyone who gets lethal drugs is disabled. Never mind that disability related concerns are people’s reasons for requesting assisted suicide. Nothing to see here. It looks like Blakespear didn’t get the memo.

As with the Kevorkian situation, Compassion and Choices has already announced opposition to Blakespear’s bill, noting that the current California assisted suicide law comes up for renewal in 2031.

So far, Blakespear is the only sponsor. It had best stay that way.


*    Bill Summary

**  Relevant terms "death with dignity," assisted suicide, Compassion & Choices, Faye Girsh, final exit network, Kevorkian, assisted suicide expansion, Barbara Coombs Lee, Final Exit Network, Hemlock Society, medical aid in dying, and Diane Coleman.