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This extraordinary measure, headed by Abp. José Gomez of Los Angeles, comes in response to the End of Life Option Act passed last month. The bill, supported by lapsed Catholic governor Jerry Brown, legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.
Governor Brown, who spent three years as a Jesuit seminarian, said he had a discussion with a bishop who opposed the bill, but ultimately decided to ignore him and sign it into law.
Archbishop Gomez immediately made a statement denouncing his decision, saying, "The logic of doctor-assisted suicide does not stop with the terminally ill."
"This is the wrong decision for California," he said when the bill was signed. "How wrong this decision is will be measured in the lives that will be lost in the years to come — the lives of poor people, the elderly, the disabled and those who are dependent on public assistance."
Believing this is a pivotal issue, the archbishop is now organizing a petition to put the bill to a public vote in 2016, an almost-unprecedented measure, as customarily bishops only weigh in on issues that are already officially on the ballot rather than organizing the vote themselves.
Andrew Rivas, the director of government and community relations for the archdiocese of Los Angeles, gave this statement:
Ordinarily the Church does not take a stand on ballot initiatives of referendum until they qualify the ballot. In this case, the California bishops believe the threat of physician-assisted suicide is so grave that the Church should participate in efforts to overturn the measure.
In order for the referendum to be added to the 2016 ballot, the petition requires 366,000 signatures to be signed and submitted by January 1 of the coming year. The Knights of Columbus are coordinating the attempt to try and meet the deadline.
Archbishop Gomez has invited pastors to inform their parishes of the Church's teaching on life issues and the petition on the Feast of Christ the King, and many parishes have already agreed to offer documents for parishioners to sign.
To understand life issues in the Catholic context, watch our One True Faith episode The Culture of Death.