Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old Californian who moved to Oregon last year so she could end her life instead of facing the last stages of brain cancer, got her political revenge this week.
That's the reality in the news coverage. That’s because -- unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere -- California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill making assisted suicide legal. Which opened the gates to this controversial personal or family choice to some 38 million people overnight.
And the Los Angeles Times reporter who covered it did a great job of making the religion angle front and center. That is, the Catholic governor of the country’s most populous state did something totally against his religion, but readers got to learn about how that decision played out. Start reading here:
Caught between conflicting moral arguments, Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminary student, signed a measure Monday allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who want to hasten their deaths.
Brown appeared to struggle in deciding whether to approve the bill, whose opponents included the Catholic Church.
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Brown wrote in a signing message. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
After explaining some provisions of the End of Life Option Act and placing a quote by its opponents quite high in the story, the reporter swung back to Brown, who said he had weighed the religious arguments.
Brown said Monday that he carefully considered input from doctors, including two of his own, a Catholic bishop and advocates for the disabled, as well as pleas from the family of Brittany Maynard, a cancer victim who took her own life. He said he also considered input favoring the bill from retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“I have considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one’s life is sinful,” he wrote.
Notice the reporter cited a Catholic bishop and then, a sentence later, input from Desmond Tutu, a retired progressive Anglican bishop who favored the bill. It's important that the writer didn’t note that Tutu is not Catholic, which may have confused some readers.
The newspaper ran the full text of Brown’s statement in this sidebar. The newspaper also ran a video on Angie Bloomquist, a woman living a miserable existence because of ALS and who had filed a lawsuit to protect doctors who prescribe lethal doses to mentally capable adults who have incurable conditions.
The Times reminded readers that Maynard had taped an appeal to California lawmakers last year asking them to grant other Californians an end-of-life option that she did not have. She also spoke with the governor days before she died, so undoubtedly, Brown’s decision less than a year after her Nov. 1, 2014, assisted suicide was a major victory for Maynard’s family and the group Compassion and Choices, a group with roots back to the old Hemlock Society.
Supporters of the bill packaged the last month of her life with gripping videos and a media campaign. The group’s website proclaimed “Victory!” upon Brown signing the bill. Check their Facebook page for birthday wishes to Tutu and a thanks to the archbishop for his part in helping to pass the California law.
I looked at how other outlets covered this. KTLA, a Los Angeles TV station, led with LA Archbishop Jose Gomez opposing the bill. It also included footage from a Hispanic activist who opposed the bill, saying the poor will feel pressured to end their lives because of the cost of their care. The San Francisco Chronicle also brought up the governor-as-former-Jesuit-seminarian angle, adding that he once worked with Mother Teresa in India to comfort the dying.
The Sacramento Bee also put the faith angle up high, adding this fascinating paragraph midway down:
Like many Catholic Democrats, Brown breaks with the church on abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and he typically demurs when asked to discuss his own religious practices.
While in Vatican City for climate talks this summer, Brown said, “You’d have to say I’m a rather independent thinker in both political and religious matters, but I am steeped in the tradition of the Catholic Church and the Jesuit order.”
Yet the doctor-assisted death bill, which the Legislature passed on the final day of this year’s session, arose amid increasing focus on the church. Brown employed Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change to rally support for his own greenhouse gas reduction efforts, and the pope’s visit to the United States came as Brown weighed physician-assisted death.
The one downer was CNN’s version, which cut out all mention of Brown’s faith struggles despite Brown’s statement being combed with faith references. Unfortunately this is not the first time CNN has cut the God part out of the story as we at GetReligion have pointed out. Once again, someone at the Atlanta-based network had to work really had at excising religion from a story.
Next to their story, CNN ran an interview with Christy O'Donnell, a California woman with Stage IV lung cancer. O'Donnell said that in her extensive research into right-to-die legislation, she'd never seen it abused.
However, one only needs to do a search for "children" and "Belgium" and "euthanasia" to come up with pieces such as this one that cover Belgium allowing seriously ill kids 12 years and over to kill themselves. None of the media I perused for this post mentioned how euthanasia in Holland has morphed into involuntary euthanasia, the killing of severely handicapped newborns and so on.
I do hope reporters dig beyond the Gov. Brown agonistes angle to analyze the smash-hit success of Compassion and Choices efforts to influence this bill and their use of Maynard as a willing poster child for this movement. No one seems ask about Maynard's insistence on only talking with national media (to this day her family still hasn't deigned to be interviewed by the Oregonian), or wonder who planned all the videos that were aired in the weeks before her death. Maynard's final days were sold as a convincing drama to a nation that couldn't get enough. I'd like a behind-the-scenes look as to how that was done.
I'd also like someone to look into whether the activist on KTLA's video was correct in his claims that the poor will feel pressured to end their lives. Is he right or wrong? The bill that the governor signed is only the beginning of this story.