It’s Not a Slippery Slope When It’s Really Happening

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Something truly shocking happened after California legalized physician-assisted suicide in 2015. It’s a clear example of “slippery slope” arguments coming true. No longer can proponents of PAS argue that scare tactics are being used in an attempt to stop the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. 


As first noted by Wesley Smith in the First Things blog, California recently issued emergency regulations that allow patients of California’s Department of State Hospital’s facilities to request and be granted physician-assisted suicide under the state’s “Death with Dignity” law, the End of Life Options Act. 


The reason this is so shocking is that 100% of these patients are involuntarily committed because of the severity of their mental illness. As the California Department of State Hospital’s website notes


“Patients admitted to DSH are mandated for treatment by a criminal or civil court judge. More than 90 percent of our patients are forensic commitments. These patients are sent to DSH through the criminal court system and have committed or have been accused of committing crimes linked to their mental illness.


In addition to forensic commitments, DSH treats patients who have been classified by a judge or jury as Sexually Violent Predators. These patients have served prison sentences for committing crimes enumerated under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (Welfare and Inst. Code Sections 6600 et. al.).They are committed to DSH for treatment until a judge deems they are no longer a threat to the community.


The remainder of the department’s population has been committed in civil court for being a danger to themselves or others. These patients are commonly referred to as Lanterman-Petris-Short commitments.” 


To recap: Department of State Hospital’s facilities are filled with seriously mentally unstable individuals – criminals, sexually violent predators, and dangers to themselves. Now California law allows any of them to receive physician-assisted suicide. 


Under the law, it should be impossible for an involuntarily committed patient with severe mental illness to ever qualify for PAS under the supposed safeguards laid out in the bill. The prescribing doctor must assess for mental capacity when a patient requests PAS, and if they doctor thinks the patient may have mental health issues (depression, or otherwise) they “can” refer the patient to a mental health professional. As PAS opponents have often argued, this “safeguard” does not work and many people with serious depression are prescribed lethal drugs. 


Now, California has completely ignored the law’s “safeguard”and declared that people with some of the worst mental illnesses should qualify for PAS. It’s too easy to see a scenario where a greedy heir or a friend or family member with ulterior motives would convince a DHS patient with severe mental illness that they should request PAS. Without any rule of law protecting them, this would be completely legal.  


This shocking development out of our country’s most populous state is another reason why PAS supporters like Compassion & Choices can never be trusted. They have misled legislators about the reasons why patients want PAS, and now they are misleading legislators about the supposed safeguards in the bill preventing abuse of our most vulnerable populations.  


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