Broad Coalition Opposes California Physician Assisted Suicide Bill

The Article Below Refers to the 1999 Bill. Click Here for the 2007 Assisted Suicide Bill (AB 374).

Kill the bill, not the ill!
We won't take your deadly pill!
This is what we're going to do:
Kill AB 1592!

They had come to be counted, to have their collective voices heard. They followed one clever chant with another, as they marched unceasingly up and down the sidewalk in front of California's State Capitol Building in Sacramento.

One, two, three, four,
Death-squad medicine will kill the poor.
Five, six, seven, eight,
Stop 1592 before it's too late!

The over 100 demonstrators represented the most diverse grass-roots coalition to form thus far against the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. There were disability rights activists, health care professionals, the poor and advocates for the poor, lawyers, teachers, migrant farm workers, the clergy and faithful from a wide variety of religions, and those who fit no particular category other than concerned citizen. It was truly a slice of America, each one peacefully demonstrating for society's most vulnerable.

HMOs make lots of dough
When medical care is denied the poor.
To make their profits really high,
They'll offer assisted suicide!

The focus of concern was AB 1592, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley) that would make assisted suicide legal in California. The bill, otherwise known as the California "Death with Dignity Act" (DWDA), is closely patterned after Oregon's assisted-suicide law, which was enacted in 1997.

Certainly, the battle over euthanasia and assisted suicide is nothing new for California. In fact, no other state has faced these issues more times. In 1988, it was the "Humane and Dignified Death Act," a euthanasia initiative which failed to garner enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Then, in 1992, there was another euthanasia initiative, the first "Death with Dignity Act," which made it to the ballot as Proposition 161, but was ultimately defeated by the voters. The next time the DWDA surfaced was in 1995, this time as two identical assisted-suicide-only bills sponsored by two different assemblywomen. Neither bill made it out of committee.

The organization behind all the legalization attempts in California has been the pro-euthanasia group Americans for Death with Dignity. They are also behind the most recent attempt, Aroner's AB 1592.

They say they want to help us.
Don't listen to their lies.
Stop AB 1592
So we won't have to die.

For the demonstrators marching in front of the Capitol Building, there was a sense of urgency. AB 1592 had already passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee and was now before the Appropriations Committee, the last stop before it would reach the full Assembly for a floor vote.

What was becoming painfully clear was that those who favored AB 1592 within the Assembly itself were not going to play fair. That was evident when the bill was up for vote in the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), an ally of Aroner. The word around the capitol was that AB 1592 was on the fast track, strategically placed in the Judiciary, where it was expected to pass without any problem. But, when the initial vote was taken on 4/20/99, the bill was defeated - 7 for, 8 against. Resorting to "strong arm" political pressure, Kuehl and Aroner targeted the newest member of the committee, Green Party member Audie Bock, who had voted against the measure because of real concerns over HMO abuses. Bock, however, proved no match for the Kuehl/Aroner team, and changed her vote to "yes." AB 1592 ended up passing the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 8 for and 7 against.

But now, the bill was being heard in the Appropriations Committee, and opponents inside and outside the Capitol building were going to be vigilant to make sure that what happened in the Judiciary would not happen again.

The Appropriations Committee was chaired by Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), arguably one of the most powerful members of the Assembly, and closely allied with Aroner and Kuehl. Migden was no newcomer to the assisted-suicide issue. In 1997, immediately following the enactment of Oregon's PAS law, Migden headed two Assembly select committee hearings - one in San Francisco, the other in LA - to review issues related to "pain management and physician assisted dying." (See Update, 11-12/97.)

AB 1592 was scheduled to be heard on 5/19/99, and the opponents were ready, some marched outside while others filled the committee hearing room to overflowing, making it necessary to open an upstairs balcony. Migden, as well as Aroner and Kuehl, also Appropriations Committee members on that day, were stunned by the show of opposition. IAETF attorney Wesley J. Smith recently described the scene:

"Then an African American stepped forward, angrily declaring, 'I demand to be heard! I demand to be heard! This bill will harm my community!' The eyes of the liberals on the committee widened and their jaws dropped. An uncomfortable silence fell. This kind of thing is only supposed to happen to conservatives." [Smith, Weekly Standard, 6/21/99] Migden let the man have his say along with those few already scheduled, and then promptly announced that HB 1592 was "in suspense." Those in attendance were told that the vote would be held the following week on 5/26/99.

Opponents used the time to call and generally lobby the committee members. Informal head counts indicated that AB 1592 would be defeated by a close margin. Aware that the measure did not have the votes to pass and cognizant of the large number of opponents present for the vote, Migden postponed the vote until the next day, telling the opponents that they could go home, there would be no vote that day. But she was not being truthful. After the opponents left, she called the committee together, only this time two "yes" voting members were substituted for two "no" voters, a practice allowed in the Assembly with leadership approval. AB 1592 passed by a vote of 11 to 9.

The fate of the bill is still in question. Aroner, under a legislative deadline, opted to place the bill in the inactive file rather than risk a probable defeat in an Assembly floor vote. But she can resurrect AB 1592 anytime during January 2000 and would have until January 31 to bring it to a full vote.

Source: International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force

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