Viewpoint: Why Californians Should Oppose Proposed Assisted Suicide Legislation

California’s proposed assisted-suicide bill does not require psychiatric evaluations which would rule-out depression, fear or anxiety as a primary motive for requesting assisted suicide, and does not provide adequate checks and balances to ensure that the disabled and elderly are protected. It could also lead to an increase in non-therapeutic suicides as it becomes socially acceptable. Since it costs only $35-50 for life-ending "medication" as opposed to hundreds of thousands of dollars for terminal healthcare the cost-saving incentive is significant.

For the seventh time since 1994, the California state legislature is considering a bill (SB 128) that would authorize mentally competent adults who are diagnosed with terminal diseases to request and receive life-ending "medication." Although the language of the bill purports to include safeguards against insurance companies soliciting patients to obtain aid-in-dying information by requiring the request to come from the individual, physician, or designee, according to some experts the bill lacks key protections that could leave the elderly, disabled, or those suffering from anxiety or depression vulnerable.

According to University of Irvine Psychiatry Professor, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, MD who wrote to members of the legislature on April 28, 2015, the bill "does not require physicians to refer patients for psychiatric consultation to rule-out common mental disorders or other causes that contribute to suicidal thinking and the wish to die."

According to Dr. Kheriaty, the desire to commit suicide is "almost always a cry for help" and a "distress signal" which may relate to untreated clinical depression, fear, anxiety, under-treated pain, and other stressors. He points out that in Oregon, where psychiatric consultations are not required, only 5% of individuals who died by assisted suicide were seen for psychiatric evaluations before making the decision to end their lives.

Under the proposed legislation, doctors would only need to meet a minimal "good faith" legal standard which, according to Dr. Kheriaty, is much lower than the higher "medical standard of care" that is required in other medical situations, and the law seems to be designed more to protect doctors from liability than to ensure that patients receive proper medical treatment and evaluation before they are provided life-ending treatment.

The California bill is closely patterned after Oregon’s assisted suicide law was passed in 1997. After a decline in Oregon’s suicide rates in the 1990s, non-medical suicides began to rise between 2000 and 2010. Today, according to Dr. Kheriaty, Oregon now has a 35% higher suicide rate than the national average, and preliminary data in Washington state which also legalized physician-assisted suicide shows a similar trend. Nationally, suicide is currently the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults.

Most major disability rights groups also oppose bills to legalize physician-assisted suicide. According to Marilyn Golden, a policy analyst for Disability Rights, Education, and Defense Fund, an organization that opposes the legalization of assisted suicide, there is a clear cost incentive for health insurance companies and HMOs to back assisted suicide. The cost of lethal medication is $35-50, which is not even comparable to the cost of treatment for most long-term medical conditions. Per Golden, there is already pressure on medical providers not to prolong life, and the legalization of assisted suicide would create a "significant danger."‘

In an opinion piece published in the Syracuse Post-Standard, Diane Coleman, president and CEO of Not Dead Yet, a national disability organization that opposes legalization of assisted suicide, writes in the Syracuse Post-Standard that, "The 17 years of reports on medically assisted suicides from the Oregon Health Authority offer a clear window into motivations behind hastened deaths. The top five reasons doctors give for their patients’ suicides are not pain or fear of future pain, but psychological issues that are all-too-familiar to the disability community: ‘burden on others’ (40 percent), ‘loss of autonomy’ (91 percent) or ‘loss of dignity’ (79 percent)."

"[S]o-called safeguards in assisted suicide bills are hollow," writes Coleman. "An heir or abusive caregiver can suggest assisted suicide to an ill person, sign as witness to the request, and pick up the drugs. No independent witness is required at the death and in half of Oregon’s cases no such witness was present. So how would anyone know if the lethal dose was self-administered, or even if the person consented at the time? Oregon’s law looks the other way, with no evidence of what happened at the end."

Coleman calls on state lawmakers to "consider the dangers to the many elders, ill and disabled people who are not safe from mistake, coercion and abuse."

Unlike previous attempts at legalization, California SB 128 is well funded and has passed through several key committees. If the legislation fails, it will likely be place on the ballot as an initiative in the near future.

Michael Peabody, Esq. is the editor of, where this piece first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Your points are important, Michael. But what consideration is there for someone with a brain tumor for whom there is no hope of living more than a few more weeks or months, who is in unmanageable pain constantly, and thus suffering terribly. What about someone in the end stages of ALS who can no longer speak, can no longer eat, who can no longer communicate but made it clear that they wanted to be taken off life support and assisted in dying peacefully when they reached this stage?

Assisted suicide is certainly a moral and ethical dilemma.


Aside for ethical considerations and the dangers of an abuse of the system; from a Christian perspective there can be no justification for suicide, assisted or otherwise. Making a terminal patient as comfortable as possible is a much better solution. If “quality of life” is that standard used (as has been suggested by some who support assisted suicide), then starving children in impoverished countries should also be assisted in ending it all. It’s a slippery slope.

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To me the same arguments used by the pro choice crowd on abortion are present here. Suicide, like abortion, is not reversible. It is a “finale solution”. That is what Hitler’s genocide against the Jews was actually called-- the final solution.

Some folks may argue that someone dying of terminal cancer, Lou Gerigs disease, etc. have no hope of survival and should have this alternative rather than prolong suffering. That may seem like a credible argument… But look at the situation of a person with Alzheimer who faces the same eventual fate. While still of sound mind will some opt for this solution??? Will some greedy heirs who see a pot of gold vanishing for prolonged care try and talk some people dying of a terminal disease into opting for this solution???

There are no easy answers. But consider this—this side of glorification we are all dying of a terminal disease called sin. People do take there own life, and this is tragic. I tried to do it myself in 1978 for reasons I have told here on Spectrum many times.

Suicide is first degree murder. But it can’t be prosecuted for obvious reasons. As it now stands, a person already can commit suicide, and if determined to carry through with it, no one can stop them. One can take a full bottle of tranquilizers and in a few hours they will be dead. I actually held a bottle of Xanax in my hand once, pondering whether to do just that because I was so depressed at the time.

I believe we have hit an all time low if we try and give legitimacy to suicide. Sadly, it happens, but why must the government try and pass a bill that gives it credibility. In my mind it sends the wrong message. Life is valuable, not cheap and disposable. @GeorgeTichy @elmer_cupino


This piece is remarkably devoid of any reference to moral reasoning, concerned only with the legality and personal incentives and risks. And there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that were this not a forum that exists only in its relation to a particular faith community. That Christian faith, the tradition of Christian moral reasoning on such matters, and moral reflection in general are absent is sorely disappointing.


Where was the mention of such terminal patients as with ALS or uncurable brain tumor that the California girl chose to go to Oregon to die under their law?

The author casually writes of depression and anxiety in a sterile manner, but the depression of a disease that is absolutely irreversible and incurable, as the physician’s diagnosis is also unmentioned. He writes from a strictly legal, and lack of compassionate tone for the many who are afflicted.

Euthanasia is always seen as the compassionate and loving act for our beloved pets; but for humans who are in similar situations, life must be extended at all costs ($$) both financially and literally. The last 60 months of one’s life today costs more than all the former years. This could be so much more effective in treating infants who do have a future.

The Netherlands, which adopted this law a number of years ago has not shown any misuse and is safely guarded by physicians to protect both the patient and family.

As a 90-yr. old, closer than any here to my eventual death, I do not fear a "physician-assisted ease into death, but the possibility that my health care directive might be overridden by zealous physicians or hospitals who wish to extend life at all costs, despite such directives.


The worst thing about legal suicide, I think, is the unspoken social pressure that would be felt by terminally ill patients to choose the suicide option and to cease being a burden on the rest of society. Once suicide is perfectly legal and socially acceptable, how could a person NOT feel it to be an outright obligation to terminate his/her life in the face of huge medical bills and family stresses.


This statement needs more background. There is no suggestion that this rise is caused by physicians prescribing life-ending medications. There is no reference to the numbers and any analysis of the trends.

This is a very important issue and the safeguards must be strong. If the law does not have these safeguards, then I would oppose the law.

Though I may disagree with the idea that assisted suicide is always wrong, I do agree that making people comfortable should be the first choice and should be a part of standards of care. There are problems with availability and cost of palliative care that needs to be addressed as well.

I am concerned with the psychological health of the family and physicians when assisted suicide is chosen. The choice needs to take into consideration everyone involved and should involve the help of social workers or psychological professionals to navigate the issues and work with those involved to make an informed decision.

I agree that the statement about Oregon: “non-medical suicides began to rise” seem to have no relationship to the law about “physician-assisted suicides” as there can be suicides with many causes, particularly of teens.


Why is it that fundamentalist Christians are so good at lining up on the wrong side of so many issues?

I suspect it is the same combination of ignorance and shallow thinking in all cases.

Jesus committed suicide. He voluntarily came from Heaven to Earth, knowing it would lead to His death, and voluntarily clung to the cross until He died.

Let us start from first principles.

Legally competent and physically capable adults can commit suicide any time they like. We can’t stop them.

Most people who call the ambulance for suicidal intentions are already incapable of doing it cleanly, and do something irrational.

However this law is not aimed at them. This law is aimed at calm competent mentally healthy adults who are faced with an highly probable and relatively immediate loss of competence followed by an unpleasant and expensive and unnecessary end of life. It is aimed at letting these people live longer before having a pleasant cheap end of life.

This weekend I am burying my father. He died unexpectedly of a presumed heart attack, after a pleasant evening of watching a DVD with a life-long friend. It was a perfect end to a long and worthwhile life. He was facing and experiencing a gradual decline into dependence and boredom and discomfort. If he was able to talk, he would tell you his end was exactly what he wanted it to be.

Instead of such endings being rare and accidental, we should return to the days when elderly and ill people could and did choose their exit.

The only people who benefit from the current approach are those who use it to strip the dying of their wealth. We have a name for that.


I agree Elaine at 90 +. Death is not a fear, pain, incoherence, and or any vegetative state or approaching such should be legal. Rather than opposition, help write a Bill that provides proper consultations.


That is one of the big factors in this debate that should hold a lot of weight, even with non-Christians.

Of course: No one is arguing, otherwise. This is a false dilemma or an either/or fallacy. I don’t know what Biblical principles prohibit suicide, although, certainly, we have a mandate against killing (even though many Christians determine that on their own terms). Definitions are slippery, here: No one really knows what an abortion is (and it has changed markedly over the centuries), but everyone has his or her own definition; the same holds for “suicide.” We can’t really have a full discussion absent agreement on terms no one agrees on—and even then, that will be difficult. And then (somewhat straying off-topic): we have an anthropocentric notion of what the value of “Life” is. Given what Ellen White wrote and how Adventists have developed their own sociology, how we can call a medical D&C or termination of an ectopic pregnancy “murder” but killing animals for pleasure (which is what “it tastes good” amounts to), perfectly all right, is difficult to get around, not to mention the tacit approval of martyrdom, even though that has no Adventist support, either. We will never be able to determine what “Life,” is, and we’re a long way from understanding what “Death” is, too—this is one of the reasons that lawyers are hardly ever the “go-to” people for corporate/medical ethics when hard decisions come along in hospitals, any longer, and theologians and philosophers are more likely to advise patients and their families. No one said life here is going to be easy—to live or to think about.

One of the most convoluted posts you’ve ever made, Bevin.

You’re in major denial if you think Jesus committed suicide. Unless He hammered the nails into his hands and feet and then lifted up the cross and set it into the hole, He did not commit suicide. Voluntarily surrendering to those who are planning to execute you, is a far cry from killing yourself. And this is your best argument in favor of suicide? This is pretty far out even for you.

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Well stated, Tom. Good to see that we’re on the same page for a change. I’ve never been able to understand the rationale for supporting these policies. How does committing suicide “glorify God” in one’s body and spirit? I Cor. 6:20.

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It is both paradoxical, and even hypocritical for Christians who believe in life after death, and that death is not the end, to criticize euthanasia for terminal patients. It is trying to have immortality here and now by extending to the last minute mere physical, even hopeless life.

If Christians truly believe that death is not the end, and recognizing that we all die (no one gets out alive); why the eagerness to extend even vegetative life in vain? In effect, it denies the Christian belief that death is not the final end.


One of the super-powers of fundamentalists is their inability to see the obvious.

Jesus said… “even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep”

and a little further on

"For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. 18"No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father


I’m sorry to hear about the death of your father. Burying a parent is tough. Dying the way he did is something I hope for myself and my loved ones - a quick passing after a long and meaningful life.


By extension, when a mother sacrifices her own life for that of her child, would you consider that self-sacrificial act to be suicide? If so, then I understand you line of reasoning.

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I remember as a second year psychiatric resident when I was consulted to offer an opinion for competence on a patient who wanted to be discharged so he can go home and commit suicide. After seeing the patient, I asked my supervisor to review the case with me. We returned to interview the patient again and his family and determined that the patient was capable of caring for himself. He was discharged after clearance from our department. That weekend, I had trouble sleeping and concentrating wondering about the patient. I don’t know what happened to him but I know how that one case influenced the trajectory of my psychiatric career. I went on to specialize in child/adolescent psychiatry.