California physicians first in nation to cave on physician-assisted suicide

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |
California physicians announced they will no longer oppose SB128 filed on behalf of Christy O'Donnell who is fighting to end her life with the assistance of physicians. | O'Donnell Photo Compassion and Choices

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Christian Examiner) -- The California Medical Association announced Wednesday that it would no longer oppose physician-assisted suicide,

The announcement comes as a California bill called the End of Life Option Act (SB 128), modeled after Oregon's death-with-dignity law, is considered by the state's lawmakers. If passed the measure would legalize physician-assisted suicide in California.

"By removing decades-old organizational policy, CMA has eliminated its historic opposition and is now officially neutral on Senate Bill 128" a statement from CMA said.

The shift in the group's stance stems from internal policy changes that deem the CMA neutral after decades of claiming medical aid-in-dying a violation of doctor's ethical obligations for patient treatment.

According to the CMA news release, in 1987 the association was directed by its House of Delegates to oppose laws "that would require a physician to provide medicine, technique, advice or referrals necessary for a patient to pursue end of life." Additionally in the 1990's CMA condemned "voluntary active euthanasia by physicians as unethical and unacceptable."

The group also opposed physician-assisted suicide clinics.

But now CMA leadership claims that hospice or palliative care is not always "enough" in a patient's end of life care, and whether or not that is the case, it is a "personal decision" between doctors and patients, Luther F. Cobb, M.D., CMA president said in a statement.

"The decision to participate in the End of Life Option Act is a very personal one between a doctor and their patient, which is why CMA has removed policy that outright objects to physicians aiding terminally ill patients in end of life options," Cobb said. "We believe it is up to the individual physician and their patient to decide voluntarily whether the End of Life Option Act is something in which they want to engage."

CMA's action on the bill reportedly ocurred after amendments were added to protect members of the medical community who do not wish to observe the law. Despite the changes, however, not all of California physicians agree with the CMA's move to drop its opposition of the long-debated issue.

The Northern California Oncologists and the Medical Oncology Association of Southern California remain opposed to the End of Life Option Act and stand by its position against physician-assisted suicide, the Sacramento Bee reported.

"As the physicians who will be most affected by SB 128, we continue to ask legislators to oppose this legislation," the groups said in a statement.

From Catholics to evangelicals, religious leaders remain opposed to the proposed legislation as well. Included among church leaders who have spoken out against the bill are Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church who has publicly opposed the bill.

"I oppose this law as a theologian and as the father of a son who took his life after struggling with mental illness for 27 years," he said referencing the 2013 suicide of his son Matthew.

The measure must still clear a state Senate committee and the Senate floor before going to the General Assembly for consideration.


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