Persuading Someone to Seek Assisted Suicide, Helping Carry It Out May No Longer Be Crime in Calif.

Doctor Stephane Mercier visits a patient at the palliative care unit of the AP-HP Paul-Brousse hospital in Villejuif near Paris.
Doctor Stephane Mercier visits a patient at the palliative care unit of the AP-HP Paul-Brousse hospital in Villejuif near Paris. | (Photo: Reuters)

California lawmakers are revising the state's penal code to make advising or helping someone to carry out a physician assisted suicide unprosecutable.

Physician-assisted suicide has been legal in the nation's most populous state since 2015 — it went into effect in 2016 — but this week the state Senate amended the penal code to read that while "[a]ny person who deliberately aids, advises, or encourages another to commit suicide is guilty of a felony," anyone "whose actions are compliant with the provisions of the End of Life Option Act (Part 1.85 (commencing with Section 443) of Division 1 of the Health and Safety Code) shall not be prosecuted under this section."

Wesley Smith, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, explained why the changes to the state's penal code should concern residents. 

"In other words, if someone — say, a relative due to inherit money, a caregiver tired of the responsibility, an assisted-suicide ideologue, a doctor or nurse, heck anyone for any reason — encourages, advises, pressures, guilts, convinces, cajoles, and/or actively aids a dying person to commit assisted suicide under the California law, the persuader cannot be prosecuted," Smith said in a National Review blog post Wednesday.

"Talk about exposing the vulnerable dying to abuse!"

The proposed changes must return to the State Assembly, the lower chamber in the state's legislature, but that house has already passed similar legislation and Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign it.

Physician assisted suicide is also legal in Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. A court ruling in Montana has allowed the practice in that state as well.

The California penal code revisions come amid recent court decisions contesting their law's constitutionality.

In May, The Christian Post reported that a judge ruled that California's assisted suicide statute, the End of Life Option Act, was unconstitutional in light of a case wherein a Christian mother was offered a lethal dose of suicide drugs as an alternative treatment for her terminal cancer one week after the law went into effect in June 2016.

Yet a state appeals court reinstated the law in June of this year. 

The case of the Christian mother in California isn't  the only instance in which insurance companies have seized upon assisted suicide laws to urge patients to utilize that option. Keeping their costs low is their main priority, patients' rights advocates say.

"It's a lot cheaper to grab a couple drugs and kill you than it is to provide you life sustaining therapy," said a disgusted Dr. Brian Callister of Reno, Nevada, last year, who was told by the insurance companies of two of his patients — one from California and another from Oregon — that they would cover suicide pills but not treatments that might save or improve their lives.

In the first year of the legalization of the practice in California, 111 individuals ended their lives under its stipulations, most of whom were cancer patients. In 2017, 374 people did likewise, and the median age of those who died was 74. State health records indicate that 577 people legally received suicide drugs last year but not everyone used them.

Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: BrandonMarkShowalter Follow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow

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