Leaders Oppose Right-to-Die Initiative

Times Religion Writer

A proposed initiative to permit doctor-assisted mercy killings, which appears to be falling short of qualifying for the state ballot, was opposed by Los Angeles Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders in a joint statement issued Wednesday.

The statement said the proposal poses a threat to “the generally accepted mores of society.”

Signers included Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger M. Mahony; Interim Episcopal Bishop Oliver Garver; Fuller Theological Seminary President David Hubbard; Pastor James Lawson of Holman United Methodist Church; Maher Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California and officials of the Southern California Board of Rabbis.


Lawson said in a news conference that the proposed measure would escalate problems in a nation “already addicted to violence.”

The statement said that the proposed law would be a “radical departure” from the current medical practice of allowing people to forgo or end “extraordinary” medical treatments “that might unduly prolong the dying process.” Treatment withheld might include respirators or cardiopulmonary resuscitation to restart the heart.

Under the proposed humane and dignified death act, a terminally ill patient certified by two physicians as having less than six months to live could request that a doctor administer a lethal injection.

Robert Risley, a Los Angeles attorney who authored the initiative, estimated that the petition drive has obtained about 225,000 signatures since December--about 125,000 short of the bare minimum needed by the May 9 deadline and more than 200,000 short of the original goal.

Risley said he welcomed the joint religious statement Wednesday. “I think that the more attention that we get, the better off we are,” he said. Church support for the measure has been limited mainly to Unitarian congregations, he said.

While still giving the proposal a “fair” chance to qualify, Risley noted that if it fails, the sponsoring Americans Against Human Suffering would try again in California, Oregon and Washington.


The Rev. Glen Holman, Sacramento-based lobbyist for the Southern California and Northern California Ecumenical Councils, said in a telephone interview that he favored the initiative and thought that voters would approve such a measure. But Holman said he did not think that the initiative drive, which had professional help in gathering signatures only briefly in December, would succeed.

The right-to-die proposal has drawn concern in the country from Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders who see California as a trend-setting state.