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Proposal to remove safeguards in California assisted suicide law after only five years

California’s legislature is attempting to introduce major amendments to the state’s assisted suicide law that would remove safeguards and physician’s rights of conscientious objection, only five years after the law came into effect.

In 2015, California became the fifth state to legalise assisted suicide through its ’End of Life Option Act’. Now however, a new piece of legislation is being advanced to remove “many roadblocks for many dying patients to access the law”, according to the sponsor of the amendments, State Senator Susan Eggman.

Senate Bill SB 380, if it were to become law, would reduce the time between two oral requests for an assisted suicide from 15 days to 2 days and would no longer require the same physician to be the recipient of the requests.

The current law has strong protections for physicians and other health professionals who are opposed to assisting in the suicide of their patients. The law permits healthcare providers to opt-out of providing this service and allows them to prohibit their employees, independent contractors, or other persons or entities, including other healthcare providers, from participating in activities under the act.

The proposed amendments to the law would remove these conscience provisions and force healthcare providers to participate in assisted suicide through referrals to other physicians willing to provide the service.

The current assisted suicide law in California permits a terminally ill, mentally competent adult to end their own life by medically assisted suicide.

Expanding euthanasia law

In other jurisdictions that have introduced assisted suicide and/or euthanasia, such as the Netherlands, Canada and Belgium, an initially narrow law has expanded access to include more people.

Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002 and since then the practice has even been extended to children. The current law allows euthanasia if the patient is in a state of constant physical or psychological pain.

There is now a renewed push for euthanasia to be available for those who are healthy but have decided they have a ‘fulfilled life’.

In the Netherlands, where euthanasia has also been legal since 2002, doctors are now permitted to secretly sedate patients who have dementia before euthanising them. The law permits voluntary euthanasia for anyone over the age of 16, and children aged 13-15 can be euthanised with their parents’ consent. Earlier this year, the Dutch government said it would be changing the regulations to allow doctors to end the lives of terminally ill children between the ages of one and twelve.

Euthanasia has been legal in Canada since 2016. In 2019 however, following the euthanising of Alan Nichols, a former school caretaker who was physically healthy but struggled with depression, the legal requirement that a person be terminally ill before administration of euthanasia was dropped.

Bill C-7, which is currently being debated in the Canadian Parliament, intends to further extend euthanasia legislation to people with disabilities and those with mental health problems.

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said: “California looks to be following the well-worn path of introducing apparently moderate assisted suicide legislation that has strong safeguards to ensure that people are not being coerced or have the opportunity to change their mind, only to have these safeguards and checks removed within a few short years”.

“The difficulty lies in the rationale for introducing euthanasia and assisted suicide in the first place. If these practises are legalised primarily to alleviate suffering, then there is no reason to restrict this ‘benefit’ to adults or the mentally competent. Children and people who are not mentally competent can also suffer greatly, so there is no clear reason why such people should not be permitted to end their own lives by assisted suicide or euthanasia. This is exactly the sort of thinking at work in the Netherlands and Belgium where euthanasia is already permitted for children subject to parental consent. The extension of assisted suicide to anyone is the logical conclusion of the suffering-based arguments for assisted suicide and euthanasia. In California’s case, as with several European countries, it has only taken a few years for the law to catch up with the logic of the argument”.

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