California state assembly passes right-to-die bill

September 12, 2015 • 11:45 am

One of the signs of increasing secularism, and of advancing morality as well, is the recognition that people who are terminally ill and wish to end their lives to avoid a horrible “natural” death should be allowed to do so.  Three U.S. states—Oregon, Washington, and Vermont—already have such laws, and the California assembly just passed a similar bill, the “End of Life Option Act “. (The bill squeaked through the Senate, the other part of the legislature, a few months ago.) Most of the opposition to these bills comes from religion, especially Catholics and, in the UK and Canada, Anglicans.

The California Act stipulates that physicians can prescribe a life-ending dose of drugs (presumably barbiturates) after patients go through a three-part procedure: presenting two oral requests (15 days apart) to an attending physician, as well as one written request, which has to be signed in front of witnesses who declare the patient compos mentis. The act has been called the Brittany Maynard Bill, after the young woman who died of cancer in November of last year at age 29. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

. . . the proposal gained momentum after Californian Brittany Maynard, 29, moved to Oregon last year so she could end her life with drugs to avoid the debilitating effects of brain cancer. Her case was covered nationwide, and in a videotaped appeal before her death Maynard urged California lawmakers to pass the assisted-death legislation.

“I am heartbroken that I had to leave behind my home, my community and my friends in California, but I am dying and refuse to lose my dignity,” Maynard says in the video. “I refuse to subject myself and my family to purposeless prolonged pain and suffering at the hands of an incurable disease.”

The bill has been strenuously opposed by the Catholic Church, of course, who see end-of-life suffering as a good because, like the odious Mother Teresa, they think it’s what God wants. “Euthanasia,” as the Vatican calls it, is considered a grave sin by the Church—for both the patient and the doctors who assist the dying. How anybody can presume to pass such judgment on another person’s rational decision is beyond me. This is one of the ways that the tenets of religion violate standards of common decency.

The California Senate, which narrowly passed the bill, must revisit it, but I suspect it will go through, and then move to to governor Jerry Brown’s desk. Brown has, I believe, refused to say whether he’ll sign the bill, which is reprehensible. If he vetoes it, there won’t be enough votes to override his veto. If he vetoes this bill I will have lost every iota of respect I ever had for the man.

Brittany Maynard

And this just in from reader David, who called my attention to a tw**t emitted by Ricky Gervais three days ago. Can anyone imagine a more screwed-up attitude than that evinced on the poster?

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 12.26.39 PM

Here’s an anecdote about Mother Teresa—told by the Mother herself at the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast:

One day I met a lady who was dying of cancer in a most terrible condition. And I told her, I say, “You know, this terrible pain is only the kiss of Jesus–a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you.” And she joined her hands together and said, “Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.”

Did she not see the irony?

67 thoughts on “California state assembly passes right-to-die bill

    1. It just goes to show that even in GB, the religious still have an influence in the political process that far outweighs their numbers. I suppose the continued existence of the House of Lords doesn’t help either.

      1. It’s not unusual for the moral opinions of MPs to be out of step with public opinion. Sometimes for the bad, as in this case, sometimes for the good. Public opinion tends to slightly support the death penalty, for instance, but there is no chance of it being reintroduced by a British government any time soon.

        It’s difficult to know exactly how much of a role religious beliefs play in the individual decisions of MPs, but the debate on this issue is pretty much exclusively focussed on secular arguments. I doubt that religious belief played a very big part in this vote, but rather the MPs’ concerns about the dangers associated with euthanasia are genuine. There is also quite a lot of objection to euthanasia from within the medical community in the UK — The British Medical Association are against it, for instance — and this is likely to be much more influential on politicians thinking than religious considerations.

        1. I didn’t know the BMA were opposed – that would have a big influence on MPs. Doctors here (NZ) are supportive, so I assumed the same there.

          What I meant by religious influence though wasn’t the beliefs of individual members, but the squeaky wheel of lobby groups. It seems to me that in the US, for example, the right-wing religious lobby has an influence much greater than their numbers suggest they should. Those groups label anyone who doesn’t support them as immoral, and no one wants that label from a group society considers to be qualified to confer the moral label.

          1. “It seems to me that in the US, for example, the right-wing religious lobby has an influence much greater than their numbers suggest they should.”

            No doubt the religious lobby punch above their weight in the UK too, but, thankfully, nowhere near to the extent that they do in the US.

          2. This from the BMA website:

            Current BMA policy

            opposes all forms of assisted dying

            supports the current legal framework, which allows compassionate and ethical care for the dying and

            supports the establishment of a comprehensive, high quality palliative care service available to all, to enable patients to die with dignity

        2. Yes: in this debate many of the better-argued cases against assisted dying were made by MPs who had first-hand knowledge of the issue, including a number of medical professionals. One of the comparatively few speakers who cited religious grounds for opposition was answered by the Tory Crispin Blunt – hardly a bleeding liberal on most issues – in these terms:

          “Whilst some people might believe that suffering is a grace filled opportunity to participation in the passion of Jesus Christ – which euthanasia selfishly steals that opportunity, I’m afraid – count me out!

          “To die well is a simple concept and one that would not have shocked Socrates. However, an aversion or allergy or proper weighted consideration of what a good death is or should look like is a shibboleth of a society that has been shaped by Christian concepts of the sanctity of life.”

          All well and good; but the size of the vote against means that the issue will have been put to bed in the UK for at least the next 10 years.

          1. “in this debate many of the better-argued cases against assisted dying were made by MPs who had first-hand knowledge of the issue”

            I’m curious as to what some of these better argued cases against assisted dying are, since I’ve never heard one. Even if one doesn’t agree that a person should have control of their own destiny, all the secular arguments I’ve heard have been pretty well disproven by the experience of Oregon and other places that have allowed it.

            1. The one I kept hearing as I listened to the BBC on NPR was “some vulnerable people would feel that the option to die would entail an obligation to choose it as they would feel they were being a burden on their family.

              1. Yeah, they used that one when the law was first being considered in Oregon, but twenty years of experience has shown that it is nothing to fear. Of course, it could happen in isolated cases, but it’s just sheer speculation as an argument against the law.

                I live in Oregon, and what has impressed me most, is that although most people who are in that situation and have that option never use it, they invariably say that their quality of life is improved just knowing that the choice is available to them.

        3. The religious opposition in the UK is often deliberately hidden. They sponsor various red herring arguments, such as pressure being put on the elderly and infirm by their relatives, out for their inheritance. Since the proposed law limited assisted dying to those terminally ill and within six months of death, it hardly seems likely that even the most money-grabbing relative couldn’t wait a few months.

          Another one is to imply that funding for hospices will be drastically reduced if the bill is passed. They also promote slippery slope arguments, implying that non-voluntary euthanasia will follow shortly. When you look for the people behind these arguments, they usually turn out to be religious. They seldom express their opposition as scripture-based, even although that is what it is.

  1. It is the three Abrahamic religions that have the strongest objections to euthanasia. Others allow it under some circumstances. The Buddhist Pali canon actually has !*stories*! of three monks (Channa, Godhika, and Vakkali) who took their life when gravely and painfully ill! No approbation is attached to this.

    1. Yes, schadenfreude is a term that is linked to the religious mindset. The best example is that most believe billions of people will forever burn in hell, and they imagine they’ll be watching and presumably gloating. wtf?

      1. In my book, watching people being tortured by monsters and not even trying to do anything to help the people…makes the watchers every bit as evil as the monsters.

        Jesus busted out of Hell once already, no? So why isn’t he down there, kicking Satan’s ass, and liberating all his victims?

        Obviously: they’re brothers and getting their rocks off with this good-cop-bad-cop routine and laughing their asses off at all the stupid humans falling for this bullshit.

        (Never mind, of course, that this is all just fifth-rate faery tales to begin with.)

        How Christians can see their mythical monsters as the good guys when they’re worse than anybody else’s nemeses is beyond me….


        1. It’s pretty hypocritical of them to even call Satan a monster. He’s just the afterlife’s version of the hangman, carrying out the sentence decreed by God. It’s God’s decision that sees people suffering for eternity and Satan is just his tool.

          1. Member, the Bible is told by YHWH’s ass-kissers. Satan is their rival; is it surprising that the YHWHists make Satan out to be the devil incarnate.

            Now, consider the stuff the YHWHists claim as evidence that they’re the good guys: YHWH curses all humanity because Eve ate a piece of fruit; YHWH drowns the entire planet because Eve’s children had Eve for a mother; YHWH destroys Egypt and murders all the Egyptian boys because Pharaoh succumbed to YHWH’s Jedi mind trick; YHWH incarnates in the form of Jesus (by way of the rape of a bride on her wedding night) in order to announce that, real soon now, he’s going to destroy the world and infinitely torture all who won’t bow down at his altar.

            …and we’re to believe that, when a monster like that says his enemy is even worse, that’s actually the case…?


            1. No convincing needed here! But I like seeing it all put together like that. When it’s spread out in the Bible, for some reason people tend to forget. It’s quite an indictment on humanity that so many can read the Bible and call it The Book if Love, Good News etc.

    2. “I think that they often get vicarious pleasure seeing others suffer.”

      Let’s be more charitable; it might just be a vicarious fear of death.

        1. I don’t see any Christians who are gleeful that someone is suffering from cancer.

          Some may be gleeful when people suffer due to what they see as sinful behavior.

          Two different things.

          1. I don’t see any Christians who are gleeful that someone is suffering from cancer.

            Huh!? Did you not read Jerry’s post? It’s right there! The meme, the quote from the Bitch of Calcutta…what more could you possibly want?


            1. “The meme, the quote from the Bitch of Calcutta…what more could you possibly want? ”

              You’re reading into her comment something that isn’t there. She doesn’t demonstrate glee, but she does have an intellectual commitment to the idea that suffering is good.

              1. You seriously need to read Hitchens on Theresa. The motherfucking sadist really did get her jollies from the misery of those unfortunate enough to suffer her ministrations. And as for “intellectual commitment” to the Christian doctrine of agony? She had none — she didn’t even believe in Jesus, so how could she?


              2. “You seriously need to read Hitchens on Theresa.”

                It’s on the reading list.

                At the moment, though, we’re evaluating what’s in Jerry’s post and there is insufficient information to determine that she takes “glee” in the suffering of others.

                Even if she did, it still doesn’t support the idea that Christians as a rule take pleasure in the suffering of innocents.

                Can’t we criticize religious belief without trying to claim that believers have every despicable attribute known to man?

              3. Taking enjoyment at the suffering of others has been the very heart and soul of Christianity since its inception.

                Aquinas wrote:

                It is written (Psalm 57:11): “The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge.”

                Further, it is written (Isaiah 56:24): “They shall satiate [Douay: ‘They shall be a loathsome sight to all flesh.’] the sight of all flesh.” Now satiety denotes refreshment of the mind. Therefore the blessed will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked.

                I answer that, A thing may be a matter of rejoicing in two ways. First directly, when one rejoices in a thing as such: and thus the saints will not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. Secondly, indirectly, by reason namely of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joyof the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly.

                Note the scriptural justifications he relied upon.

                Now, recall the orgies of blood and torture the Church has frequently indulged in over the millennia — the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Conquistadors, the Holocaust…nothing but a neverending litany of horror, all done for the love of Jesus.

                If you really need more evidence beyond that, just tune into your local Christian broadcast network to hear a preacher practically orgasm with excitement as he describes the torments the wicked face in Hell.


              4. “describes the torments the wicked face in Hell. ”

                You’re seriously losing the thread of this conversation. Like the OP, you’re bringing up the suffering of the guilty, not the innocent.

                I’ll consider this sub-thread concluded.

              5. Huh?

                Christians don’t distinguish between guilty and innocent. Never have, never will. It’s the core foundation.

                Jesus himself was as innocent as they get, at least according to the mythology. And a lot of pr0n has been made over the millennia reenacting his brutal torture. See The Passion of the Christ for a recent installment, but that sort of thing dates back to the beginning.

                And the whole point of Christianity is that all have sinned and are guilty and unworthy, and are saved only by the Grace of the Blood of the Lamb.

                Hell, even all this is right there in the Theresa quote. What did Theresa think the woman was doing but putting on a Passion Play just for her personal enjoyment? A Christian lap dance, if you will.


              6. Scott Draper said “Can’t we criticize religious belief without trying to claim that believers have every despicable attribute known to man?”

                Yes, in the case of many believers they are good people. But Mother Teresa is a very bad example for your purposes, she did have many despicable attributes and no good ones.

                While I quite agree with Ben (and Hitch’s) evaluation of her, I don’t think we should emphasise that she had lost her faith. It would be just too ironic if we succeeded in adding her to the popular list of monsters only to have the religosos claiming her as another evil atheist like Hitler, Stalin etc…


              7. It would be just too ironic if we succeeded in adding her to the popular list of monsters only to have the religosos claiming her as another evil atheist like Hitler, Stalin etc…

                I wouldn’t worry. The Church is far too wedded to Theresa to let go of her; if she goes down, she takes the whole Church with her.

                Besides, her problem wasn’t a lack of faith in Jesus; her problem was being Torquemada’s little sister.

                Show of hands: how many think Anjezë Bojaxhiu could have gotten away with half of the horrors she inflicted had she not done so under the banner of the Church?


  2. That’s great of the bill goes through.

    I’m not nearly as afraid of “death” as I am of suffering. It’s that idea of terrible suffering, and entering a lack of control at some point where you have no choice but to suffer, that I find scary about dying.

    Knowing one had a choice in the matter, to end one’s suffering if it becomes too much to bear, would be far more comforting (to me).

  3. As Hitchens wrote, religion poisons everything. I currently have 3 broken ribs after falling down the porch steps. I’m in extreme pain, even with pain killers and I couldn’t imagine if this kind of pain were linked to a terminal disease that I couldn’t escape. Keeping human beings alive to suffer for no purpose is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

    I can’t see Brown vetoing this, but I do find it odd he hasn’t revealed his intentions. It will be hopeful if this goes through, then the entire west coat states will have these humane laws. And to keep up with Washington and Oregon, they need to legalize marijuana. Then Jim Morrison’s words (for me at least) would ring true: “The west is the best, get here we’ll do the rest.”

    1. OW! Why’d you go and do that!?

      Tell your doctors that you’re still in pain, and don’t be afraid to tell them that you want to treat the pain aggressively. The pain does you no good at this point; it only makes you hurt, makes you depressed, saps your recourses and slows your recovery.

      Unless you have an actual history of addiction, there’s no reason to abstain from fear you’ll get addicted from painkilling narcotics. It could still happen…but most people are naturally very good at finding by themselves their favored balance between reducing pain and being spaced out and will instinctively (and rapidly) cut back on the narcotics as the pain diminishes.

      You’re in for some misery for a while, but you don’t have to be that miserable.


      1. Thanks for the advice Ben. I’m on percocet, but I don’t think it’s helping all that much. I think I’ll call and see if I can get something stronger. I haven’t taken pain killers for a decade, so I’m not worried about addiction. This is definitely the most pain I’ve been in since I broke my femur at age 7. I have heard that broken ribs are painful, but damn, painful is too weak a word.

        1. I once had a coughing fit that lasted overnight. I would cough every 10 seconds from a tickle in my throat that wouldn’t go away.

          Well, it felt, the next day, as if I had done something to my ribs. It hurt to breathe, to move, even. Sitting down = excruciating pain. Took 6 months to heal.

          I have no idea what I did, but it was one of the most painful and long-healing experiences ever.

          1. Sounds like the coughing gave you a bad case of pleurisy, where the tissue surrounding the lungs on the inner chest cavity can separate from the muscles and/or become inflamed. I’ve had it before from coughing fits too. Mine lasted about a month and it was really painful, but not as bad as you describe. I hope this injury doesn’t last 6 months. Yikes. I’m thinking 8 weeks minimum though.

  4. Perfect evidence that Christianity is and always has been an unimaginably powerful force for evil in this world, and that Jesus is an over-the-top archvillain.

    The Church has no shame and deserves no respect.


    1. I don’t know what group issued this iniquitous poster, but it reflects how Christianity must go through contortions to justify the extraordinary amount of suffering that takes place in the world. Organized religion is like a Rube Goldberg contraption, i.e., it is composed of a multitude of bizarre parts that attempts to explain the world as opposed to accepting the simple and most likely explanation – there are no deities. There is, however, one big difference between a Rube Goldberg contraption and religion. The contraption at least worked. Religion fails to explain anything that a rational purpose could accept.

      1. I’ve seen this revolting poster before, and I’m pretty sure it comes from one of the more fundamentalist Catholic groups.

    2. I’m going to put “expresses desire to convert to Catholicism” in my Living Will, to be used as a sign that yes indeed, it’s time to pull the plug because my brain is clearly dead, dead, dead.

        1. No, I think that someone can mentally frame a cruel action as an act of kindness and really mean it as such. If your mind isn’t in the right place, your heart can be in the right place and it makes no difference.

          That’s why religion is so dangerous. It’s not just that people can “use” it to justify nasty things. It can give them nasty ideas so covered in roses and lace that they mistake what’s underneath for beauty.

          1. But even there there’re limits. At the least, those parents who torture their children to death by withholding medical treatment…they have no sense of compassion and empathy. They don’t feel their children’s pain as their own. Even if they’ve made a coldhearted calculation that this is for the best, they lack the innate cognitive abilities that, in an healthy individual, serves to short-circuit those sorts of miscalculations.

            It’s a pretty simple measure. If somebody in pain begs you to do something specific to reduce their pain…well, there might be some rare exceptions in cases of recovering substance abusers, but, in almost all other cases, refusal is inexcusable. You’ve chosen that person’s torture over your own discomfort — the exact same calculation tyrants make.


            1. In my opinion no measure is ‘simple’ once the wild card of religion has been introduced. Plenty of loving parents stand by while their children are “tortured” by doctors and nurses performing lifesaving measures. You simply grit your teeth and think of the larger picture — not so much for your sake as that of your child’s. If it was up to you, it would be easier to go for the short term comfort of watching the breathing tube remain out of the protesting throat.

              If your definition of “lifesaving” has been extended beyond death, however, then all bets are off on how compassionate, empathetic, and warmhearted you can be and still stand calmly by. Your child must die short term so that they will live forever. You love them enough to think of them.

              Yes, shame on the faith healers and those who believe in them, despite how much they ‘mean well.’ But a greater shame on the people who disavow any endorsement of faith-healing and yet STILL make a great big song and dance about how wonderful and beautiful it is to have faith, and seek it like a child, so sure of temporary sacrifices and future glories which others find irrational.

              1. Children have to be a distinct case, with a transition from the parents being fully responsible at birth to the child having full autonomy at adulthood, and some blend between. If you’ve got a young teenager who would rather die than continue chemotherapy…it may well be the case that the teenager’s autonomy should be respected. For a five-year-old? Much harder to say, but, even then, such an expression cannot be idly dismissed. But, of course, a five-year-old doesn’t get veto power over routine vaccination, no matter how nasty the tantrum.

                But, of course, as you put it so well, extending such considerations into a fantasy realm throws off all such calculus.

                I’d be willing to grant parents the right to argue from such a position…if they could offer up evidence (that would make it past peer review) that their fantasy realm actually exists. Which it doesn’t, so I wouldn’t.


  5. In the story Jesus went willingly to his arrest, trial, torture, and facilitated death with full faculty of mind. He was not ‘allowed’ to die in due time, but was instead slowly but deliberately executed. I see no reason why Christians cannot interpret this to mean it is Christ-like to, you know, wanna speed things along a bit.

  6. My best buddy and I made a mutual assistance pact after the Terry Schiavo debacle that, if either of us becomes terminally ill and unable to do it himself, or permanently mentally incapacitated, the other will snuff it for him.

    My buddy just got a new set of golf clubs, has season’s tickets at Wrigley, and is gonna leave a rich, good-lookin’ widow. So I warned him upfront, if he catches the sniffles, I’ll be looking for the appropriate plug to pull.

    What are best friends for, huh?

  7. Iirc a few years ago there was an essay in a British paper arguing against The Right to Die which took a different religious approach.

    The writer detailed how his father had suffered and needed intense, prolonged care before he died. But this situation yielded an outweighing good: the tender ministrations of the author was pleasing in God’s eyes. Without the ability to martyr oneself as selfless, patient, noble caretaker there is LESS good expressed in the world. God is soooo wise to have ensured that some deaths are painful and debilatating, because that creates a need for nursing, sacrifice, and loving responses. I mean, isn’t this just reasonable?

    No. Sick, sick, sick. This is how religion poisons and twists minds.

    1. What a selfish prick. His own father had to suffer unimaginable torture just so that the writer could get a gold star on his report card from Jesus. And that Jesus didn’t step in the instant he saw how horribly unethically the writer was behaving, even if naïvely well-intentioned, says nothing good about Jesus as a teacher nor an human being.


      1. Exactly! One of the quotes that got left out of my prayer post in the final cut went something like, “If God answers all prayers, does that mean millions of people are praying for children to starve to death.”

        I plan to use it in the future in a post about the bloke who writes about a “Purpose-Driven Life.” Using his logic, those who are suffering are put there by God for Christians to help. Aren’t they lucky?

  8. As an Oregonian, I think it is interesting to look at the results here, since the program has been running since 1997. They have a good website with annual reports:

    In 2014, there were 105 DWDA deaths, about 0.3% of deaths in Oregon that year. 95% were white; 48% had college degrees; about 85% had cancer or ALS; 67% were 65 or older; 93% were in hospice care; 90% died at home.

    There is no sign at all that it is being abused, whatever claims might be made by opponents.

    1. Good point. And as far as I’m aware, there’s no sign of abuse anywhere around the world that assisted dying legislation has been enacted.

      Such legislation has the support of the New Zealand public, but currently no politicians are willing to introduce it. The Catholic Church in particular has spoken out against it, but they’re not the only ones.

  9. One other state allows for death with dignity. In 2009 a Montana Supreme Court ruling changed the legal status of doctor-prescribed suicide in the state. In Baxter v. Montana, (PDF), the Supreme Court of Montana held that, while the State Constitution did not guarantee a right to physician-assisted suicide, there was “nothing in Montana Supreme Court precedent or Montana statutes indicating that physician aid in dying is against public policy.” They held that rights granted under the state’s living will law, The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, “form the basis for permitting physician aid in dying.” Since then, various bills have been introduced to both prohibit and allow death with dignity, but nothing has passed. So, while there is no protocol for it, doctors who prescribe lethal medication upon patient request are protected from prosecution. It is not illegal.

  10. This may already have been posted above, but it is now up to Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it
    into law. One hopes he will sign.

    “The California Senate approved the End of Life Option Act on a 23 to 14 vote…”

  11. This is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately it’s a small one. It only applies to people expected to die within six months. Those with six months of suffering ahead of them get to die peacefully. Those with years or decades of suffering ahead of them must suffer. There are plenty of diseases that make life unbearable without outright killing a person.

  12. It will be interesting to see if Brown signs it – my guess is he will.

    However, from Wikipedia:
    In 1955, Brown entered Santa Clara University for a year, and left to attend Sacred Heart Novitiate, a Jesuit novice house, intent on becoming a Catholic priest. Brown left the novitiate after three years…
    and, in 1982:
    Brown traveled to Japan to study Buddhism, studying with Christian/Zen practitioner Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle under Yamada Koun-roshi…
    He also visited Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, where he ministered to the sick in one of her hospices.

  13. ‘One day I met a lady who was dying of cancer in a most terrible condition. And I told her, I say, “You know, this terrible pain is only the kiss of Jesus–a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you.”’

    Well if I see Jesus approaching I’ll shoot the toxic bastard quick.

    (If I had a shotgun, that is…)


  14. For some reason Gervais hits the right description on my account: “revolting”. I have a good stomach but that poster makes me want to throw up. :-/

Leave a Reply