By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The right-to-die movement, though, refuses to die, and another initiative — AB 374 — is currently working its way through the state Assembly, the third such bill in as many years and the fifth since 1992. Modeled after the 1994 Oregon Death With Dignity Act, the only existing right-to-die law in the country, the bill would provide legal immunity for doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to “mentally fit” terminally ill adults diagnosed as having less than six months to live. Unlike euthanasia, in which a doctor performs the “mercy killing,” patients prescribed a fatal dose would have to physically take the pills themselves at a time of their choosing.
Now 88 and in failing health, Boyer probably won’t be able to lobby Assembly members on behalf of the new bill. For his own sake, he hopes he won’t have to. “Aging is not for sissies,” he says with a smile. “I don’t want my own life decisions purloined by the rule of a tyrannical minority.”
On a cool March morning, in downtown Los Angeles, a small congregation of protesters gathers in Pershing Square under the banner of “Californians Against Assisted Suicide.” Roughly 50 in number, and carrying probably twice as many signs, they’ve come to voice their opposition to Fabian NĂșĂ±ez and his support of what one sign calls the “Buchenwald Bill.” Mostly white and elderly, they shuffle about politely, smiling at one another and taking pictures, waiting for organizers to march them to the steps of NĂșĂ±ez’s office, several blocks away. The stale smell of urine wafts in the air, and a colony of homeless men and women, roughly equal in number to the marchers, are spread throughout the park, some watching with mild amusement and others dozing. Their presence is notable in that they appear to be the only ones present who actually reside, in one way or another, in NĂșĂ±ez’s district.
After an hour or so of milling in the square, organizer Bob Cielnicky grabs a megaphone and formally starts the protest. “Lord, we say a prayer for the souls of supporters of this bill,” he begins, seemingly setting the religious undertone for the rest of the day. But if religious condemnation of assisted suicide would seem the natural path to take after such an introduction, what follows is a complete surprise. After Cielnicky steps down, virtually all mention of religion, and especially Christianity, is abandoned. If Compassion and Choices has been conspicuously avoiding the use of the “S” word, the protesters are at pains to silence the “J” word: Jesus. Nor is there any formal presence from the Catholic Church. In its stead, a bizarre parade of “disability advocates” and “labor leaders” hop to the front of the pack to grab the megaphone and start shouting.
One such advocate repeatedly warns of “intense vomiting” for those who attempt to end their lives with a physician’s assistance. She’s referring to a recent report from Oregon, which revealed that four out of the 46 patients who took advantage of the Oregon law in 2006 regurgitated their fatal dose before finally succeeding. “How can it be called death with dignity if the patients are vomiting?” she concludes, seeming to forget the far more egregious suffering patients have likely endured.
The only overtly religious figure of authority present is a large, middle-aged mouth-breather calling himself Rabbi Lou Feldman. When his turn to take the megaphone comes, he indulges the crowd in a brief synopsis of the shared Judeo-Christian belief in the “sanctity of life,” before concluding his remarks with a rhetorical flourish. “The road to Auschwitz was paved with euthanasia programs,” he says, drawing the biggest applause of the day. Feldman’s speech doesn’t mark the first Holocaust reference of the day, nor will it be the last. Indeed, the slaughter of the Jews appears to be a bit of a motif, highlighted by several remarkably insensitive placards.
“Coming soon to your town — Auschwitz R US — You kill ’em we grill ’em.”
As the speeches wrap up, the protesters gather and march to NĂșĂ±ez’s office. Led by Cielnicky, the group forms a long line out front stretching the length of the block. Fliers are then passed out, and the line stutters through a series of slogans based on disability rights. Yet for all their issue-oriented incantations, the religious conviction among the group is unmistakable. Gold crosses hang from the necks of several protesters, and a boy no older than 12 wears a shirt that reads, “Pain is weakness leaving the body” — a presumed reference to John Paul II’s teachings.
As for Cielnicky, he’s a member of the Orange County Priority Life Network, and an Internet search of his name reveals public comments in opposition to any number of progressive social issues: gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research — you name it. If the church doesn’t like it, neither does Cielnicky. Yet when asked about his religious preferences, Cielnicky plays coy. “I’m a man of God,” he says, before getting back to his talking points, “but today I’m here to lend my support to the disabled. This whole bill is ridiculous. The closest comparison I see is to Nazi Germany.”
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