(CNSNews.com) – California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill that opponents say could open the door to the eventuality of physician-assisted suicide in the nation’s most populous state.
AB 2747 mandates that physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide patients diagnosed with a terminal illness – or who have been given a diagnosis of one year or less to live – with “comprehensive information and counseling regarding legal end-of-life options, as specified.”
Specifically the law obligates doctors to inform the patient about the option of “withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments” – including food and water.
Health care providers will be required to refer or transfer the patient if they can not, in good conscience, comply with the request.
Randy Thomasson of the Sacramento-based Campaign for Children and Families (CCF) called the law “a backdoor way” of bringing assisted suicide to a state that has already rejected the practice by referendum.
Saying the issue should be up to the voters, not the Legislature, Thomasson said Schwarzenegger had given his assent to physician- and nurse-assisted suicide by means of starvation and dehydration.
"AB 2747 allows a physician assistant or a nurse to opine that a patient is 'terminal,' and then recommend an unnatural death via 'palliative sedation,'" Thomasson said.
"Depressed patients who succumb to this pressure will be drugged unconscious and die from dehydration, usually within five to 10 days. Nothing in AB 2747 prohibits this horror," he added.
Kathi Hamlon, a spokeswoman for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, said even if the bill does not actually legalize assisted suicide, it could open the doors to it.
“I think the potential for this bill is dangerous, and I think the intent of the bill was, in fact, to push the assisted suicide agenda. But it did not legalize it … so you can’t sit and say this is stealth-assisted suicide. It has the potential to be.”
Hamlon said two organizations that openly promote assisted suicide – Compassion & Choice (which helped draft the bill) and the Final Exit Network – will benefit from the law because they currently provide information to people about assisted suicide.
“Now what will happen,” Hamlon continued, “is that after this bill is established as practice in California, (the groups) will argue, ‘Hey look, it’s far more humane to do what Oregon does instead of having to wait 12-16 days watching a loved one suffer without food and water. It’s far more humane to offer them a legal prescription.’”
Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide when the Oregon Legislature put an initiative on the ballot in 1994 – and Oregon voters approved it, with 51 of the vote.
Hamlon, meanwhile, said California already has legislation solidifying the patient’s right to medical information at the end of life.
“Why introduce this bill in the first place if it doesn’t have an agenda towards legalization of assisted suicide?” she asked.
Steve Hopcraft of Compassion & Choice defended the bill saying that patients “have the right to know all possible options” when they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Hopcraft sharply criticized opponents who believe it allows for euthanasia, calling their position “absurd,” “irresponsible,” and “untrue.”
“The patient’s right to full information,” he told CNSNews.com, is “hard for anyone to quarrel with, except for those extreme religious dogmatists who believe that they should determine what every patient has the right to know, not the patient. The medical association is in support of this bill.”
Hopgood said that many patients in California with terminal illness are ignorant of what their true options are.
“Any physician who believes that they have the right to withhold information from a dying patient about their existing legal and medically appropriate options should probably not practice medicine.”
Hopgood, meanwhile, agreed that groups like his will find themselves being called on as sources of medical information.
“There is no one ruled ineligible being a source of information by the physician,” he said.