Calif. opens back door to assisted suicide, critics say


WASHINGTON — Supporters of physician-assisted suicide may have found a roundabout way to legalize the procedure in another state.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, signed into law a measure that requires doctors and other health-care providers to give patients with a terminal illness, or who are believed to have a year or less to live, information about "legal end-of-life options" at the patients' request, according to Cybercast News Service (CNS). Under the law, doctors must tell such patients about "withholding or withdrawal" of even food and water, CNS reported.

The new law is "a backdoor way" of legalizing assisted suicide in the state, said Randy Thomasson, president of the Sacramento-based Campaign for Children and Families, according to CNS. Terminally ill patients could be sedated into unconsciousness and die from dehydration several days later, he said.

Kathi Hamlon of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide said she believes the goal of the legislation is "to push the assisted suicide agenda."

"Now what will happen is that after this bill is established as practice in California, [organizations supporting assisted suicide] will argue, 'Hey look, it's far more humane to do what Oregon does instead of having to wait 12 to 16 days watching a loved one suffer without food and water. It's far more humane to offer them a legal prescription,'" Hamlon said after the bill was signed Sept. 30, CNS reported.

Oregon is the only state that has legalized physician-assisted suicide. That state's law permits doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminal patients. Oregon has recorded 341 deaths by assisted suicide since its Death With Dignity Act took effect in late 1997.

Washington states' Initiative 1000, would bring Oregon-like assisted suicide to Washington, if approved on November 4. Legalized assisted suicide enables doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs for a patient but not to administer them.