California Catholic Nursing Homes may be Forced to Allow Assisted Suicide

Wesley J. Smith warns bill could threaten lives of vulnerable elderly and ill patients in nursing homes and hospice care
Mon Feb 26, 2007 - 12:15 pm EST

By Hilary White

  SACRAMENTO, February 26, 2007 ( – Well known bioethics author, Wesley J. Smith, warns in an article posted to the weblog of First Things magazine, that a pending bill in California could threaten the lives of vulnerable elderly and ill patients in nursing homes and hospice care.

  Assembly Bill 374, says Smith, under the rubric of “choice” will force in-patient hospice facilities and even Catholic nursing homes to permit assisted suicide. The proposed legislation, he writes, exempts only acute-care hospitals.

  While euthanasia advocates claim the changes to the law are only small matters of “tweaking” existing statutes, Smith warns that the result is a piece of coercive legislation that will threaten the lives of patients, undermine the philosophical foundation of hospice care and threaten the autonomy and even the existence of Catholic care facilities.

“If A.B. 374 becomes law, Catholic and other religiously oriented nursing homes will be forced to choose between shutting down, selling, or cooperating in assisted suicide.”

“A.B. 374,” Smith writes, “is patterned generally after the law in Oregon, though the coercion about which I write is not found in the current Oregon law or a concurrently introduced assisted-suicide legalization bill in Vermont, and is an attempt to force most medical and nursing facilities to cooperate in the assisted-suicide regime.”

  Smith points to the sections of the bill, 7198 (b) and (e), to be added to the California Health and Safety Code should the legislation pass.

  7198 (b) reads: “No professional organization or association, or heath care provider, may subject a person to censure, discipline, suspension, loss of license, loss of privileges, loss of membership, or other penalty for participating or refusing to participate in good faith compliance with this chapter.”

  Subsection (e) reads: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a general acute care hospital, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 1250, may prohibit a licensed physician from carrying out a patient’s request under this chapter on the premises of the hospital if the hospital has notified the licensed physician of its policy regarding this chapter.”

  As a lawyer with years of experience deciphering legal loopholes in bills related to bioethics issues, Smith asserts that the specific exemption of acute care hospitals as the only place where assisted suicide may be stopped on site, means that the legislation intends to force other types of facilities to allow the practice.

“The legislation must be construed to require that all other health-care facilities cooperate with assisted suicide ¬whether or not they have religious, moral, or philosophical objections,” he writes.

  Read the full text of Assembly Bill 374:

  Read related coverage:

  Bill Would Authorize Assisted Suicide By Any Other Name in Arizona

  New Assisted Suicide Bill Introduced in Hawaii Legislature

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