Culture of Life: Going, Going...Gone?

Culture of Life: Going, Going...Gone?
by Senator Sam Aanestad

Part of the reason I became an oral surgeon was because of my belief that serving God means valuing human life. I took an oath to protect those that He creates.

As a legislator in the California Senate, that oath is even more critical.

Patients facing a terminal illness have many needs. Among them are comfort, pain relief and information to make critical decisions. They need dignity, respect and the support of those who love and care for them. They need prayer and the help of clergy, family and friends.

What they don't need is an intrusion into their relationship with their doctor.

Proponents of California's AB 2747 "Terminal Patients' Right to Know End-of-life Options" say it is just about information. Unfortunately, it does much more than educate terminally ill patients. It interferes with the care of patients who are about to receive the worst news of their lives.

Sponsored by a group that promotes physician-assisted suicide--formerly known as the Hemlock Society--the original language of AB 2747 included a mandate that doctors give specific information to patients when advising them they have less than one year to live. Patients would have to be told that they could be sedated into a coma and stop eating and drinking.

Dozens of opponents testified against this measure during a recent marathon hearing of the Senate Health Committee. They included disability rights advocates, nursing organizations, doctors who care for cancer patients, minority rights groups, members of religious communities, hospitals and individuals who are affected by this issue.

A breast cancer surgeon opposed to AB 2747 told me that her patients need more than just "end of life" options.

"I was usually the one to make the diagnosis and give that information to my patients and their families," she told me. "The relationships I developed with these women were built over time. They trusted me to take care of them."

She cared for patients who were clinically depressed or addicted to Methamphetamine or mentally ill. Some were from abusive situations. Some came from cultures that condemned physical illness as a sign of moral failure. Some women preferred their religious faith to medical treatment.

She explained how AB 2747 would hurt a woman facing Stage IV breast cancer:

"It would have been cruel to take a list of treatments that may not even apply to my patient and tell her 'Here, this is what the California Legislature said I have to tell you when you find out you're dying and you ask me what to do.'"

These women need a doctor to see them as individuals. As a health care professional myself, I can't imagine treating a dying patient according to a government dictate of what they need to hear and when.

It bothers me that AB 2747 leaves no option for the compassion of a doctor who knows her patient best. A cancer doctor caring for a depressed patient who says "What can I do?" would have no recourse other than to do exactly as the bill mandates--give the information the California Legislature says she needs when they say she needs it.

The priority for every patient is to dispense a laundry list developed by Sacramento politicians.

It also bothers me that this legislation is a back door approach for advocates of euthanasia. AB 2747 contains language that can easily be amended in the future to include other treatments than those it now includes--treatments like those advocated by the bill's sponsor, the former Hemlock Society.

People who are hurting don't need the legal maneuver in AB 2747. They don't need state government to stand between people who suffer and those they choose to care for them.

If you don't believe that a government's role is to devalue human life, please defend the terminally ill. Urge the Governor of California to VETO AB 2747.

Senator Aanestad represents the 4th Senate District and serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Health Committee.




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