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The Court of Last Resort

By David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics) | July 28, 2016

by David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

Though I have two in my extended family, I never wanted to be a lawyer. But I admit, I have desired more legal knowledge over the last few months as CMDA has taken legal action as a last resort to deal with threats to our members and our patients. 

We took this last recourse in California where many say, “as California goes, ultimately, the country goes.” There is a good bit of truth in that statement. California is our largest state with a population of 40 million and has significant influence across the country. That is why CMDA and other groups have fought so vigorously for more than 15 years to thwart attempts to legalize physician-assisted suicide in California. I’ve personally crisscrossed the state many times warning about legalizing death on demand and its danger to patients, their families, healthcare professionals and society. On one trip, I spoke 28 times in four and a half days to healthcare professionals, legislators, churches and the media. For many years these efforts were successful.

Emboldened by Brittany Maynard’s story, Compassion & Choices executed a full court press in a “let’s break all the rules to win” campaign in the legislature last summer. Their legalization initiative had been defeated during the regular legislative session, but Governor Jerry Brown called a special session to deal with the state’s precarious finances. According to California law, the only thing that can be discussed or voted on in a special session is the one issue the sessions was called to deal with, so those in opposition to physician-assisted suicide had their guard down. With backdoor maneuvering, Compassion & Choices bypassed committee obstructions, got the issue to the floor anyway and the vote passed.

So CMDA is party to a suit based on the fact that the vote was illegal and thus void. We are hoping to get an injunction.

For some, it might be too late. Dr. Lonny Shavelson, a retired emergency room physician, opened an office in his backyard in Berkley a few days before the law took effect on June 9. His practice is called “Bay Area End of Life Options.” A long-time advocate of physician-assisted suicide, he will provide death on demand to those refused “help” by their own physicians. What is your life worth if you are terminally ill? Well, we have an answer. It’s $2,000 at this Doctor Death’s one stop shop. Suicide is the only service this practice offers.

He doesn’t lack experience. Long before physician-assisted suicide was legalized in California, he was present when five patients killed themselves. He simply watched as an elderly man struggled as his sister suffocated him with a pillow. He dispassionately related that story and his personal philosophy in his book Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and the New Duty to Die.

Across the country, CMDA and some of our individual members in Vermont are working with the Alliance Defending Freedom and have brought a suit against the Vermont Board of Medical Practice and the Office of Professional Regulation, due their recent move to force conscientious doctors and other clinicians to counsel their patients for physician-assisted suicide or to refer that patient to a physician who will. This makes them morally culpable in the death of that patient if they obtain a lethal prescription and then kill themselves.
I don’t like suing. If fact, we require mediation and arbitration rather than going to court in all of our contracts, but in these instances we have no other option to protect Christian healthcare professionals’ right of conscience and religious freedom.

Have you noticed? On ethical and even some medical issues, it is demanded first that the intolerable be allowed. Then it must be endorsed as good and finally participation is demanded. When truth and even common sense is ignored, the only option is coercion and intimidation to force people to comply. It is demanded that you act as if the emperor is clothed, even when he is walking down the street naked or you will lose your head.

The court is the last resort, but in this day or time there is less and less chance that even the court will render a verdict on the clear meaning of the law rather than the judge’s own political biases. All the same, Christian healthcare professionals must stand for righteousness, no matter the cost.

Related Resources

Physician-Assisted Fact Sheet

CMDA Physician-Assisted
Suicide Ethics Statement

State Legislative Issues


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