California Catholics Rally to Block Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill

2010-0406_ArchbishopGomezLOS ANGELES — The Catholic Church, often out of step with California’s liberal Legislature, notched a prominent win at the statehouse this week after aligning with advocates for the disabled and medical groups to defeat a proposal to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives.

The decision by a legislative committee July 7 to shelve the bill followed weeks of lobbying by competing interest groups over whether to allow physicians to legally prescribe fatal medication, following Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez wrote to the Assembly Health Committee last month, warning against a state that responds to suffering by “making it easier for people to kill themselves.”

An archdiocese website urged volunteers to get involved. Parishioners and seminarians called and met with legislators. In English and Spanish, the Diocese of Orange urged parishioners on its website to write members of the Legislature to oppose the bill.

“For the Catholic community here in Los Angeles, this is not a ‘Catholic’ issue or a question of our doctrine or ethics,” Gomez said in a statement after the vote. “For us, the issue of physician-assisted suicide involves fundamental questions of human dignity and social justice.”

He characterized the archdiocese as part of a “broad and diverse coalition,” that included health care workers, disabled people and other groups.

California lawmakers have long been at the forefront of advancing gay and reproductive rights, issues that frequently conflict with Catholic teachings. In this case, the church found itself on the same side as other interest groups at the statehouse, including the Medical Oncology Association of Southern California and the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, helping tip the political balance.

The vote carried possible political risks for Hispanic lawmakers from the Los Angeles area whose districts include large numbers of Latino Catholics.

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