Some doubts (and aspersions) have been cast about my interpretation of A.B. 374, which I detailed in a Secondhand Smoke post and over at First Things. One commenter called my interpretation “convoluted.” Well, true–but only because of the way the legislation is written.
Here it is again in a nutshell: First: No health care worker or provider can be forced to actually participate in assisted suicide. At the same time, no health care provider or worker who does can be punished for it in any way. Meaning, that if a doctor who visits a nursing home assists the suicide of a resident, even if it is against the policy of that nursing home, he or she cannot have any sanction, nor could the patient be asked to vacate.
Second: Acute care hospitals are expressly permitted to opt out of having assisted suicides performed in their facilities. Since this is a specific category of health care provider, the effect is that no other providers can similarly opt out since they are not given that right in the legislation.
Third: There is a strict construction clause, meaning that the terms cannot be expanded. Hence, only acute care hospitals will be able to opt out of assisted suicides on their premises.
If the authors didn’t want this consequence, all they had to do was permit any health care facility refuse to permit assisted suicides to be conducted on site. This is what H. 44, the Vermont assisted suicide legislation does, to wit: “5294. HEALTH CARE FACILITY EXCEPTION: Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a health care facility may prohibit an attending physician from writing a prescription for medication under this chapter for a patient who is a resident in its facility and intends to use the medication on the facility’s premises, provided the facility has notified the attending physician in writing of its policy with regard to such prescriptions.”
California’s legislation contains no such blanket exemption. (I know, I know: There are potential loopholes in the Vermont wording, but let’s leave that be for now.) Hence, if the California legislation passes as is, Catholic nursing homes, in-patient hospices, and other such health care providers would be powerless to prevent assisted suicides from taking place in their facilities.