Friday, October 2, 2015

Subverting the legislative process: How the Assisted Suicide Lobby circumvented the California Legislature

By Dr Jacqueline Harvey

The media has branded ABX2-15, the bill that would legalize assisted suicide in California as Landmark legislation. Landmark legislation can serve as a catalyst for reform nationwide or it can becomes a cautionary tale. In the case of ABX2-15, my prediction is that it may be both, and the consequences will be catastrophic.

California is not the first state to legalize assisted suicide. What qualifies this bill as landmark is the influence California has on other states as a leader in policy innovation and in particular the underhanded strategy used to pass this bill.

If Governor Brown allows this tactic to prevail, California will be the first state to enable assisted suicide to pass the legislature without sufficient committee hearings, testimony and debate through misuse of a special session. Both this dangerous legislative precedent, and this dangerous legislation, is likely to spread.

If AB2X-15 is signed, this new strategy, to use the legislature against itself, would represent a significant shift in the suicide lobby’s already unethical tactics. Education on the ramifications of assisted suicide that occurs in the formal legislative process presents such an obstacle, that suicide lobbyists have changed their strategy and are now avoiding the legislature completely and they have sought the support of the uneducated voter through ballot initiatives or unethical judges who will legislate from the bench. Legislative hearings broadcast the very evidence that sabotages assisted suicide bills. The data is so damning that only one bill in over 175 has ever prevailed. Yet, for the first time, with ABX2-15, the suicide lobby did not have to circumvent the legislature to suppress education, just abuse it at a time when the process was relaxed to deal with different issues.

If signed, Governor Brown will not only be passing dangerous legislation that was not vetted, but worse, he will be validating a tactic which would encourage additional abuses of special sessions that yield more bad law. Any legislation that requires ignorance to pass is evidently flawed and the hallmark of a dangerous bill. It is not simply that legislation passed in haste and without proper scrutiny is cause for concern, although it is. The greater concern is how abusing the special session enables legislation that could not satisfy lawmakers even with ample time, debate and compromise. This would create a loophole for legislation so inherently problematic it has little hope to pass, unless it is done too quickly and superficially to truly consider the consequences.

Assisted suicide bills are a prime example of fundamentally flawed legislation that virtually never survive debate. Decades of data on assisted suicide overwhelmingly indicate criticisms of the bill cannot remedied enough by amendments to secure passage. This was the case with SB 128. When legislators in the Assembly health committee thoroughly examined SB 128 and found no compromise to abate their concerns. The suicide lobby used the special session to navigate around those that opposed the bill. The defects in SB 128 were not remedied. The fact that ABX2-15 has these same provisions and yet passed shows that it was only a procedural ploy and strategic efforts to keep lawmakers in the dark that allowed the bill to pass.

Reinforcing this behavior by signing impertinent bills like ABX2-15 encourages disordered use of the special sessions, particularly as a mechanism to pass these fundamentally flawed bills. If this bill is signed, California can expect more bills that are clearly lacking in merit and pushed by lobbyists who are hoping to capitalize on the lack of time, public involvement and committee oversight (which exists to find these flaws and hopefully amend them).

Ultimately, signing AB2x-15 would not only harm California with flawed public policy and dangerous precedent but sets a bad example and promulgates this flawed policy nationwide. History and academic research validate how influential the state is among others. In fact, California was the first state to adopt end-of-life legislation in 1976. The legislature passed the nation’s first advance directive law so patients could have a natural death, not one postponed, prolonged or worse- caused by overburdensome life support or unwanted medical treatment. This law went through the legislative process where it was amended to address serious concerns before it was viable for passage. This took two years. That carefully-crafted law in 1976 rapidly diffused to all fifty states.

This rapid diffusion of a bill that prevented artificial, prolonged death could be that AB2X-15 follow a similar path to allow artificial premature death. Only the former bill to protect life from unnatural death needed years to perfect, yet AB2x-15, allowing unnatural death, only needed a few weeks of little to no scrutiny. The procedural ploy that allowed such will surely be used in other states to spread similar bills that would assuredly die if lawmakers were afforded the education intended by the legitimate legislative process.

If Governor Brown reinforces the particularly underhanded tactics used to exploit the special session and fast-track ABX2-15, it would expand the suicide lobby’s corrupt modus operandi, a playbook which is already rife with unethical tactics designed to suppress scientific evidence, deceive and manipulate. He will not just be signing a bad law, but validating a tactic that yields dangerous policy for not just California, but all states that follow her lead.

Jacqueline C. Harvey is a public-policy scholar with Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International. She has a Ph.D. in public administration and policy and focuses on end-of-life legislation at the state level.

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