Mahony targets measure to legalize assisted suicide

Times Staff Writer

During a Mass on Monday, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony denounced proposed legislation that would allow terminally ill Californians to take their own lives with lethal drugs.

Speaking to 250 worshippers scattered among the pews at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, Mahony called the legislation, AB 374, an “assault on life.”

“As we look around us, we still see many elements of a culture of death,” Mahony said. “We have a new danger, an assault on life. It has come again in the form of a bill in the state Assembly.”


The bill is modeled on an Oregon law, known as the Death With Dignity Act, that voters there approved in 1994. Since the law took effect in 1998, 292 Oregon residents have invoked it to take their own lives.

The California bill would allow people to obtain drugs to end their lives if they have less than six months to live and have been declared mentally competent. They would administer the drugs themselves.

Some proponents of the bill describe the practice as “aid in dying,” an argument Mahony dismissed.

“It’s nothing more than an assisted suicide bill,” Mahony said.

Two previous attempts to pass such legislation in California in the last three years failed. Those measures were opposed by the Catholic Church, as is the new effort.

The sponsors of AB 374 are Assembly members Patty Berg (D-Eureka) and Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys). The bill also has the support of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), who in February said he was “ready to buck my church” over the issue.

Mahony singled out Nunez in his 10-minute speech Monday.

“We should be troubled at his support,” Mahony said of Nunez. “Somehow, he has not understood the culture of life.”


Nunez’s Deputy Chief of Staff Steve Maviglio responded on the speaker’s behalf in a statement Monday afternoon, saying Nunez has discussed the issue with Mahony.

Maviglio said that although Nunez “respects the cardinal’s view, this is another issue of individual choice where the overwhelming majority of Catholics have a different perspective than the official position of the church. Personal liberty and dignity are important values to Californians, regardless of their religious beliefs.”

Monday marked the second anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s death, and Mahony noted that the pontiff weathered his declining health with dignity, dying “after much suffering.”

Standing next to a large portrait of John Paul, Mahony recalled that the pope had written the “Gospel of Life,” a letter in which he passionately condemned assisted suicide and abortion.

“If Pope John Paul II were standing here right now, he’d say, ‘We must not go down that path,’ ” Mahony said.

Tim Rosales, a spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide, said Mahony’s religion-backed stance adds weight to their secular arguments against AB 374. He said secular groups opposing the bill fear that a cost-driven managed healthcare system could pressure some chronically ill patients to take fatal medication.


“Cardinal Mahony is an important community leader and is known for taking a stance on controversial topics, like immigrant rights,” Rosales said. “So I think, of course, his support will help our concerns reach more people and put the issue in religious context.”