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California Embraces Physician-Assisted Suicide, Christian Health Care Professionals Fight Back

Dustin Hobbs
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Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Christian physician and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations are suing the state of California.

As if California’s effort to embrace death as a dark, distorted aspect of “health care” weren’t bad enough, state leaders last fall took things to a new low.

On October 5, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 380 into law, weakening the already-permissive rules regulating the state’s physician-assisted suicide law. The original law, passed in 2015, required a 15-day period in between a patient’s request for assisted suicide, giving patients opportunity to reconsider their choice, discuss with family, and get further input from medical professionals. That timeline was sharply reduced by the new law, effective January 1, 2022, and now requires just 48 hours between requests.

Why is that important?

In addition to the desperate need to reconsider the concept of suicide as a palliative measure in general, a study in The Lancet, a highly respected medical journal, found that a terminal patient’s will to live shows “substantial fluctuation” over very short periods of time. The study revealed that the will to live may fluctuate over 30% in just a 12-hour period and between 60% and 70% over 30 days.

What does that mean? It means that a significant number of patients considering suicide, who may be in tremendous pain and perhaps on high doses of painkillers, will in fact change their minds. Some will find relief from their current condition, and some may even live well beyond the prognosis of their doctors, who may have diagnosed their condition as “terminal.”

Physician-assisted suicide in California and across the country

The new law, and physician-assisted suicide as a practice, doesn’t just affect patients and their families. Doctors who hold to basic medical-ethics principles (e.g., “do no harm”) face a terrible choice: either participate in the physician-assisted suicide process or potentially lose their practice and face civil or criminal penalties. California law now requires health care professionals, regardless of their conscience or religious beliefs, to actively facilitate the process of ending a patient’s life upon a patient’s request by referring to second physician to complete the assisted suicide.

Unfortunately, 10 states (plus the District of Columbia) now allow some form of physician-assisted suicide, and hundreds of patients have died in recent years. Lawmakers may claim to have safeguards in place to protect the rights of doctors and patients, but how can turning health care professionals into killers lead to anything that can rightly be labeled as “dignity”?

Even the American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics plainly states that assisted suicide is “incompatible with the physician’s role as healer [and] would be difficult or impossible to control...” California policymakers, however, demand that even if a doctor obeys their conscience and refuses to participate in a patient’s suicide, they must refer the patient to another physician who will provide them life-ending drugs. In doing so, objecting physicians are also forced by California’s law to take required steps, like documenting a patient’s suicide request, that move the patient closer to death.

If these health care professionals continue to stand on their deeply held beliefs and focus on helping and healing instead of killing, they could be subject to civil or criminal penalties and could even lose their license.

Don’t be fooled by the provision in the law that allows health care professionals who don’t wish to actively participate in the death of their patients to refer them to another doctor who will. Many doctors rightly see this as facilitating the patient’s death.

The California State Legislature’s own analysis even concluded that these referrals compel health care professionals to “affirmatively facilitate” the physician-assisted suicide of their patients. Doctors shouldn’t be forced to participate—in any way—in the death of a patient they’ve sworn to protect.

Christian health care professionals speaking out

That’s why the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), represented by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, has recently filed suit to protect the rights of their members and stand against California’s ghoulish desire to end life prematurely.

CMDA deeply believes that suffering patients need understanding and sound medical treatment, not encouragement to kill themselves. Further, the organization argues that the conscience and religious freedom rights of health care professionals must be protected. The state has no authority to order them to act contrary to those sincere convictions.

Bottom line: No government has the authority to force health care professionals to choose between violating their conscience, religious convictions, and long-held medical ethics and doing their job. Our laws must promote, encourage, and celebrate life—not endorse and foster death.

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Dustin Hobbs, Senior Digital Copywriter & Editor
Dustin Hobbs
Dustin Hobbs serves as the Senior Digital Copywriter & Editor at Alliance Defending Freedom.