111 Californians Die Under Controversial Right-to-Die Law; Most Were Cancer Patients

Assisted Suicide
Pro ''assisted dying'' campaigners protest outside the Houses of Parliament in central London, Britain September 11, 2015. |

California's Department of Public Health released statistics revealing that 111 terminally ill people chose to end their lives last year under the state's right-to-die law, despite pleas in the past from Roman Catholic leaders and influential California pastor Rick Warren.

The report, released on Tuesday, explained that between June 9, when the End of Life Option Act came into effect, and December 31, 2016, as many as 258 people over the age of 18 with a terminal illness opted to begin the process for assisted suicide.

Of that number, 191 patients were prescribed lethal medication by their physician, with 111 people dying as a result.

"Of the 111 individuals who died pursuant to EOLA during 2016, the majority, or 58.6 percent, of their underlying illnesses, were identified as malignant neoplasms (cancer). Neuromuscular disorders such as ALS3 and Parkinson's accounted for the second largest underlying illness grouping, totaling 18.0 percent," the report continued.

"The remaining major categories of underlying illnesses were documented as: heart disease (8.1 percent), lung respiratory diseases (non-cancer) with 6.3 percent, and other underlying illnesses (9.0 percent)."

Warren, who leads Saddleback Church, one of the largest megachurches in the U.S., has strongly spoken out against the law.

"[Christians] are not [of] a utilitarian view of life that we're just tools, that we're just objects," Warren said in November. "We are made by God for God. Until we understand that, life doesn't make sense."

Father Robert Barron the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Ministries, also spoke out against the so-called "mercy killings."

"One of the ways that Catholic tradition deals with this more philosophically is this idea of the inviolable dignity of the individual. It is intrinsically evil to ever take a human life, from the moment of conception to natural death. Meaning, there is no motive, no circumstance, no consequence that would ever justify such a move," Barron said.

"The protection of the innocent has to be the foundation of any moral system."

Evangelical polling firm LifeWay Research found in a poll last year that adherents have a more divided view on the matter, however.

The survey, which randomly sampled 1,000 respondents between Sept. 27 and Oct. 1, found that 42 percent of evangelicals, along with 70 percent of Catholics, agreed that people facing a slow, painful death should be allowed to end their own lives.

Compassion & Choices California State Director Matt Whitaker defended the right-to-die law following the release of the stats on Tuesday.

"The state's data show that even during the early months of the law's implementation, the law was working well and terminally ill Californians were able to take comfort in knowing that they had this option to peacefully end intolerable suffering," Whitaker said in a statement, as reported by CNN.

"We continue to work to ensure that every terminally ill Californian has equal access to all end-of-life care options, including hospice, pain control, palliative care and medical aid in dying."

An article in Catholic Online on Wednesday argued against euthanasia, however, and warned that eventually laws that allow children to die, such as those passed in Belgium and the Netherlands, could also come to America.

"There are many problems with euthanasia. Proponents capitalize on confusion, pain, and fear to promote their goal, which is to permit people to commit suicide lawfully, and to make suicide socially acceptable," the article warned.

"Once normalized, like other forms of social deviance, the practice is certain to spread. In time, it will not be merely the terminally ill, but rather people who are depressed, or labeled undesirable."

Assisted suicide is legal in only a handful of other states in America besides California, including Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C.

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