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Parishes collecting signatures for assisted-suicide repeal

December 3, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

The Archdiocese of San Francisco is joining all California dioceses in supporting a signature-gathering campaign to place a referendum on the November ballot that would repeal physician assisted suicide.

“Sadly, this new law creates a medical and social reality in civil society that expands a ‘throwaway culture’ mentality to an unprecedented level, placing in peril our most vulnerable sisters and brothers in California and undermining the trust so essential to the physician-patient relationship,” Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone wrote in a Nov. 13 letter to pastors.

Archdiocesan respect life coordinator Vicki Evans said the signature gathering will begin at parishes the last weekend in November, the first Sunday of Advent, and continue at least until the second weekend in December. Each parish will receive 100 to 300 referendum petitions by mail from the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, an organization working with the California Catholic Conference, Evans said.

The referendum must have 365,800 verified signatures of registered California voters submitted to the secretary of state Jan. 4 to place the measure on the Nov. 8, 2016, ballot. A diverse coalition of organizations and individuals oppose assisted suicide, including actor Martin Sheen, Mrs. Ted Kennedy, and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne as well as the American Medical Association, Californians for Disability Rights, La Raza Roundtable of Santa Clara County and League of United Latin American Citizens as well as dozens of others.

California’s law was approved at a time when California’s population over 65 is forecast to rise, from 4.5 million now to 11 million by 2050, a change which will increase Medicare and other health costs picked up by taxpayers.

In addition to a growing population of elderly, California also has a large population of uninsured and underinsured people for whom physician-assisted suicide will “always be the cheapest option,” making them vulnerable to coercion, said Kathleen Buckley Domingo, associate director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Los Angeles archdiocese.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law Oct. 5. Seniors Against Suicide filed a petition with the secretary of state to collect signatures for the referendum Oct. 6. While the California bishops generally wait until a measure has qualified to be placed on the ballot, they are making an exception for this measure, Archbishop Cordileone wrote.

“Because this law presents an unprecedented moral threat to human dignity and the timing for qualifying for a referendum is urgent, we California bishops have decided to make a rare exception to our policy and endorse this initiative before it qualifies for the ballot. Thus, signature gathering will be allowed and encouraged in the Archdiocese of San Francisco,” Archbishop Cordileone wrote.

The law makes California just one of four states where physician assisted suicide is legal. The other states where physician assisted suicide is law are Washington, Oregon and Vermont. In Montana a judge ruled it was not against the law there.

The California End of Life Options Act allows a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of narcotics to someone who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a prognosis of six months to live. It was introduced in an August special legislative session called to address health care costs after a similar bill, SB 128, stalled in Assembly committee during the regular session.

Under California’s law, after the required two-week waiting period following a terminal diagnosis, the patient can write or phone to get the assisted suicide prescription and the dose can be sent via mail to the patient. There are no safeguards as to who accepts the package or whether the ill or disabled person ingests the medication through his or her own will or is given it by someone else. The two witnesses can be an employee of the nursing home and an heir or relative, under the law. The cause of death is listed as the underlying illness, not assisted suicide.

In a statement released Nov. 23, the executive committee of the California Catholic Conference said, “Instead of reaching out to the vulnerable terminally ill with proper care and companionship at the end of life, the new law legalizing physician assisted suicide inculcates the perception that those at the end of life are an unnecessary social burden.”

The comments were part of a larger statement that linked parental notification in case of a minor’s intent to abort, repealing the death penalty, and repealing physician assisted suicide. Signature gathering to place measures on the November 2016 ballot is underway for all three. In its statement, the executive committee said: “In the coming weeks and months, all three of these issues will be before us in California. You may be asked to sign petitions to place them on the ballot for November, 2016. Signing the petitions will give us, and all Californians, the opportunity to craft laws that truly serve the common good and build up the social fabric of California while enriching the life of all. “

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