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"Choice" my foot: If the new bill to legalize assisted suicide in California (A.B. 374) becomes law, Catholic nursing homes will be legally required to permit assisted suicide to be committed within their premises, even though doing so would be a profound violation of Catholic moral teaching. In-patient hospice facilities would be similarly coerced, despite assisted suicide being a direct affront to the hospice philosophy and the medical standards under which programs operate. Other California medical facilities and group homes could also be forced to comply. Only acute-care hospitals escape the proposed tyrannical duty to cooperate in ending patients’ lives.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Assisted-suicide advocates are a voracious lot. They claim that their policy goals are modest, a mere tweaking, if you will, of medical ethics and protocols. Being zealots, however, they often try to sneak coercive provisions into their various legalization proposals. A.B. 374 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.

The duty is imposed obliquely, one might even say by stealth. Here’s how it is done: The relevant sections are 7198 (b) and (e), which would be added to the California Health and Safety Code if A.B. 374 becomes law:

7198 (b): 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. ( My emphasis. )

Here’s the sneaky part: Subsection (e) permits acute-care hospitals to refuse to permit assisted suicide in the facility.

(e) 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.

Under 1250 (a), an acute-care hospital is defined as “a health facility having a duly constituted governing body with overall administrative and professional responsibility and an organized medical staff that provides 24-hour inpatient care, including the following basic services: medical, nursing, surgical, anesthesia, laboratory, radiology, pharmacy, and dietary services.” Thus, nursing homes, hospices, and other such facilities would not qualify for the exemption provided acute-care hospitals under 7198 (e), since they do not have laboratories or pharmacies on-site, provide surgical medical services, etc.

By explicitly identifying acute-care hospitals as the only facilities where assisted suicides can be prevented from taking place on-site, 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. Nor could these facilities sanction or discipline staff doctors or other personnel who agree to participate in on-site assisted suicides of patients.

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. That this could cause untold misery for thousands of helpless sick and elderly people matters to its authors not a whit. The culture of death brooks no dissent.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

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