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Calif. activist calls for greater health care, not assisted suicide

.- Opposition to the California Assisted Suicide bill is increasing, according to Ann Guerra, chair of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers. She is one of many disabled activists who have been working to defeat the assisted suicide bill.

Bill 374 was still in committee as of May 20 and has reportedly lost some of its early momentum.

If the bill is not voted out of committee and off the Assembly floor by June 8, it must either be rescheduled for January or it dies.

In an interview with the California Catholic Daily, Guerra said whenever assisted suicide is introduced, early polling shows support for the idea. But as people become educated and look more deeply into the issue, they oppose it.

“They learn, for instance, that pain can be managed, that people are placed at-risk for early death when they do not have access to needed health care services, and that people experiencing depression are dangerously vulnerable,” she said.

While legislation is intended for people with a terminal prognosis, Guerra argues that people with disabilities are at greater risk if the bill passes.

“People with disabilities get terminal prognoses at a greater rate than the general population and many have been told that their condition will result in death in six months only to live many years beyond that time,” she explained.

A new disability is frequently accompanied by depression and even suicidal thoughts. These people are often faced with family or economic stress. This passes with time and is vastly improved with appropriate health and social services, she said.

“If depression and fear of disability are acceptable reasons to prescribe lethal drugs, anyone with a disability is at risk,” she told the Catholic newspaper.

Proponents of the bill argue that there will be safeguards in place, but Guerra is not convinced. Furthermore, she said, the safeguards are more for physicians who prescribe lethal drugs rather than the patients.

Doctors would be protected from legal liability if they act in "good faith," she noted. 

“Adequate, appropriate health care services, including palliative care, and the removal of barriers to community living can make this issue completely moot,” she said.

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