News: Jerry Brown’s passing of assisted suicide and consent legislation

euthanasia a1
Gazette photo/Jill Kurpershoek Gazette illustration/ Troy Pawlak

 

Published: Granite Bay Gazette Vol. 19, Issue 3. Friday, Nov. 13, 2015.

Category: Law and Ethics/Leadership and Team Building

Reason for publication: After California Governor Jerry Brown passed AB 329 and AB 15, I felt that the Gazette needed to do a story on both.  I am a member of the E.A.V. program/club (the Auburn Journal posted a quote from me about my involvement which you can see here ) which promotes consent on the GBHS campus and I jumped at the opportunity to inform students about consent. I conducted a school-wide poll (see below) to attain a general consensus of students’ current knowledge on consent. I decided that the two bills were too different to discuss them both in one story, and although they are treated as two separate articles, they are connected with the lead-in, which addresses both.


 

GOOD CONSENT

California Governor Jerry Brown has passed several significant pieces of legislation – including Assembly Bill 329, which makes Affirmative Consent curriculum mandatory on high school campuses, and Assembly Bill 15, which would give physicians the means to administer life-ending prescriptions to terminally ill patients as a right of  the patient to decide to end their life.

  Yes Means Yes requirement

  AB 329 requires that California high schools which require health classes must teach the Yes Means Yes standard, which would educate students about consent. Governor Brown also signed a bill making health classes in high schools mandatory – unless explicitly negated by a student’s parent or guardian.

  ‘Yes Means Yes’ and Affirmative Consent are synonymous policies – both necessitating an audible or physical (i.e. a nod), enthusiastic and clearly-stated signal of approval to engage in a sexual act. Both policies recognize acts of intimacy as consensual only when both parties engaged agree to the act at every stage.

  “It’s so important to start teaching young people about consent at an early age so they can practice (using it) throughout their life,” said junior Julia Huss. “I think everyone has an idea about what consent is, but maybe not everything (about it). I know some people who are all for consent, but (who) didn’t know that you can’t consent while intoxicated or say no to sex after you have already had it.”

  The Yes Means Yes standard replaces the old No Means No standard– implying that a sexual act was not consensual if the person says no –which had been criticized for ambiguity. Seniors Mark Zagaynov and Isabella Li favor the Yes Means Yes standard because they said it increases clarity and makes the policy more positive.

  “A lack of a no doesn’t mean a yes,” Li said. “That’s so important. Even now, police will be misinformed when they ask ‘did you say no?’ It can still definitely be considered rape if the no wasn’t actually said. You can feel so pressured as a victim that you’re too scared to say no – but that doesn’t mean yes at all.”

  Granite Bay High School does mandate that all students take a health class – usually in the form of Health and Safety their freshmen year – so GBHS will not be affected by the aforementioned passed legislation requiring those types of courses. Furthermore, Health and Safety teacher Kathie Sinor said that she doesn’t think the passing of AB 329 will have a significant effect on the curriculum already in place, as the importance of consent is taught about already.

  “For ourselves, how we teach and what we teach isn’t really going to be any different,” Sinor said. “We do go over … the consequences (after becoming) sexually active. That decision is very personal, but it has to be your decision – not the decision of someone else. We also focus a lot on circumstances that make it difficult for you to say yes. If a (person) is drunk, that’s not the time to have sex with (them) because (they) can’t say yes. It’s the alcohol that’s saying yes. We really look at the realities of (sex), but then if it is consensual … it needs to be communicated between the two of you. You don’t want to be saying yes in the spur of the moment. You want to make sure the decision is right for yourself, but it’s something that’s a very mature action and has huge potential consequences that the two of you need to openly discuss for there to be enjoyment in the sexual relationship. We’re also looking at (the fact that) these are freshmen, and (the) type of situations (they) are most likely to be in where they are having sex – and many times they’re pressured to have sex, but it does need to be clear from both parties that it’s something that they want.”

  The majority of GBHS freshmen have not yet been taught about consent this semester, as they have not reached that point in their curriculum. Be that as it may, a survey administered by the Gazette, given to 10 percent of each grade, given voluntarily and taken from students anonymously, asked if consent had been granted in ten separate, hypothetical scenarios.

 The survey showed that about 92 percent of freshmen, 80 percent of sophomores, 91 percent of juniors and 77 percent of seniors answered no, consent had not been granted, if one person said yes while drunk. If one party was unconscious, 99 percent of freshmen, 88 percent of sophomores, 100 percent of juniors and 100 percent of seniors said consent was not granted.

 If one party was the other’s significant other (i.e. girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse), 16 percent of freshmen, 20 percent of sophomores, 10 percent of juniors and 12 percent of seniors said consent had been given. Consent had also been given if one party has engaged in a sexual act with the other party before, as according to 16 percent of freshmen, 17 percent of sophomores, 10 percent of juniors and 12 percent of seniors.

 If provocative clothing was being worn by one person involved, 15 percent of freshmen, 12 percent of sophomores, 3 percent of juniors and 5 percent of seniors said consent had been granted. If one party began to remove clothing, 35 percent of freshmen, 25 percent of sophomores, 27 percent of juniors and 25 percent of seniors said consent was granted.

  Most seniors, juniors and sophomores have completed the Health and Safety requirement and have been taught about consent. But the survey results still show a significant amount of uninformed students unsure when clear consent had been given.

  Junior Selena De La Torre said she doesn’t remember learning about consent, and began to learn about the topic through posters advocating for consent on campus, through social media and through stories published in the Gazette.

  “I feel like students do need to know what consent means, and, to a certain point, when it’s okay to do that stuff and when it’s maybe not okay to do that stuff,” De La Torre said. “I think it’s really good we’re going to be talking about (consent), because I feel like not everyone has the same definition or point of view (on consent).”

  The posters that De La Torre is referring to were made by the Empowered Against Violence (E.A.V.) club to promote the usage of consent. Last year, E.A.V. was a grant-funded program on the GBHS campus which met once a week and taught participants about sexual assaults, how to prevent them and resources which could be of service to survivors of assault/abusive relationships.

  A representative from Stand Up Placer – a Placer County organization that provides support, resources and services to survivors of sexual assault – taught a lesson each week, but this year, E.A.V. is a school club. Huss, the previously mentioned junior, is also the E.A.V. club president, and said that the club is a safe place for survivors to talk or ask for resources.

  If a student has been assaulted or knows someone who has been assaulted, they can also talk to a trusted adult or teacher on the GBHS campus, but should know that because teachers are mandatory reporters, the situation becomes a legal issue. Teachers are mandated to report situations of abuse – for example, if a student is being sexually or physically abused or caused harm to themselves or other.

  “Help is kind of weird on all campuses because there’s a lot of mandated reporters,” Li said. “So if you’re not sure if you want to get the police involved, which is a completely reasonable (feeling), be wary of mandated reporters, because they will have to report it and it will become a legal issue. Just talking about it to a safe, nonbias source is really helpful. When you put it into words (it might help you see) this wasn’t (your) fault. A lot of people don’t know about Stand Up Placer – talk to them, they’re very nice and they’re there to listen and they’re not mandated. There’s a lot of resources that they offer and even just if you’re calling for a friend – like (if) you don’t know what to do – that’s a good help line and they’ll give you advice and listen to you.”

 In response to a portion of students stating that consent had been granted if one party was the others’ significant other, De La Torre said asking is important for couples because “it’s not something you automatically get to do” and should not be assumed – even if involved in a romantic relationship with the person,

  “Your significant other doesn’t belong to you,” senior Nathan Dell’Orto said. “You don’t have the right to do with them what you choose. Just because they’re your significant other doesn’t mean that it’s an implied yes. If they say no – no means no. So unless they give you a yes, there is no consent.”

    In a survey given by the the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation to college students currently attending school and those who have recently graduated, only 29 percent of students said they believe that mandating sexual assault prevention programs is an effective way to decrease sexual assaults.       

  However, education on the subject of healthy relationships and consent in general is seen as an effective way to reduce sexual assaults. This ideology was stated by Li and Huss, with Joy and Sinor stating education is effective if done correctly.

  “I think it’s weird that consent is a touchy issue, when it’s just a clear, simple question,” Li said. “It implies a lot of other things, but we talk about sex so often and consent is never tied together – (so) why aren’t we having this discussion? Part of having safe sex is asking the partner if they want it – otherwise it’s not sex.”

Euthanasia Controversy

  AB 15 legalizes assisted suicide in California for those patients who are terminally-ill, mentally healthy and have six months or less left to live. After passing the legislation, California became one of five states to allow doctors to administer fatal drugs to patients with little time left.

  The bill requires two doctors to sign off on their approval stating the patient has six months or less to live, that the patient request life-ending drugs on multiple occasions (in a written format), that the life-ending prescriptions must be taken by the patient themself and that the death be witnessed by two observers.

  One interesting aspect having to do with the passing of the bill is the reality that it defies the core of the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics. Senior Mark Zagaynov said he thinks the bill will be controversial mainly because of its failure to respect the Hippocratic Oath, which states that doctors will treat all patients to the best of their abilities – doctors who administer life-ending drugs would be the most defiant of all scenarios rebelling against the Oath.

  Over the centuries, the Hippocratic Oath has been whittled down, and is most well-known by its most memorable and quoted phrase: “do no harm.” But what about the circumstances in which, by prescribing life-ending drugs, physicians permanently alleviate the pain of someone suffering intensely? Granite Bay students discussed differing opinions on the topic.

  “Recently, I went up to visit my grandmother who just fell and broke her hip and her femur, and she’s not been doing well lately, so I was thinking, … if she wants to hold on for as long as she can – by all means (go ahead) – but I wouldn’t want her to just have to sit there and waste away to nothing, even if she wanted to end her own life,” senior Nath Dell’Orto said, who is in support of the bill passing. “It’s all about the person’s comfort. I think the way they went about setting up the bill is very good as far as assisted suicide, because the people that I’ve heard critique it make it sound like it’s going to make it way too easy for people to take their own lives, but you need approval from multiple doctors, from what I’ve heard, who say ‘yes, this person has no chance of surviving, they’ve made the choice to end their own life.’

  The choice and the power to end one’s own life is what most find complicated and complex when deciding whether or not they support the bill. Senior Ryan Joy, who said he is neutral on his stance on the passing of the bill, said he thinks the decision to end a life should be up to the entire family – as that is who will be left to live with the consequences of the decision.

  Joy, who, like Dell’Orto, has personal situations that have influenced his stance, said his view on assisted suicide – that it is “not as humane as it seems” – is influenced by his mom’s friend who, once exceedingly healthy and fit, is now dealing with heart problems and bone cancer.

  “She’s a forty-year-old mom of (a little girl, and) the chances of her coming out of this and living a decent life (are) not very good,” Joy said. “If her condition were to progress in the wrong way, or some surgery were to go wrong, she would be dying not having given up. The whole thing with cancer is you fight until the very end. That’s what a lot of people pride themselves on. Medicine isn’t completely, 100 percent (correct). You never know what’s going to happen in a human’s body.

  One area of controversy surrounding the bill is that suicide in general is controversial in many religions. Zagaynov, who said his views on the issue are neutral, said that his neutral stance has been influenced by his religion.

  “I think suicide isn’t the right choice in many circumstances,” Zagaynov said. “But in the circumstances that the assisted suicide would be administered (under), it’s a little more grey. These are patients that would die otherwise. It’s patients that have six or less months to live, they have a terminal disease and their death would be pretty painful and horrible otherwise, so I think that’s why I’m not really sure where I stand. Because it’s such a grey area. In other cases, it’s black and white – suicide is never the good … way out. There’s always another choice that you can make.”

  One religion in particular – Catholicism – believes suicide is a sin because life is a gift from God and to defy God is a sin, as according to the Catholic Education Resource Center. Furthermore, Catholic Answers reports that a Catholic who repents before suicide will not go to hell, because God may give them a final opportunity for repentance.

  However, the Catholic Church has come out in opposition of the passing of the bill because they feel that it would allow patients to commit suicide who are not yet terminal and might place pressure on terminally-ill patients to end their own lives.

  Carmela Flores, a Catholic senior at GBHS, said she is neutral on the topic, but does concur with the Catholic Church’s stance.

  “I do agree with the Catholic Church that it is immoral to go forth with assisted death,” Flores said. “I personally believe that it is in God’s will to determine (to) take an individual’s life, and that it is not in the position of someone else to do so.  I feel that people should value one another and comfort/support those who are terminally ill up until their death. (However), I also do respect and accept if the patient chooses euthanasia because they don’t want to keep living life in agony. I also think that they are choosing what is best for them and that they want to die with peace and dignity.”

  Senior Reed Homen, who isn’t Catholic himself, said he is influenced by the Catholic ideology because half of his family is Catholic. Homen said he doesn’t believe people should help others hurt themselves, but his views are conflicted in the case of Brittany Maynard – perhaps one of the most well-known cases of assisted suicide – and in her case, the choice to die peacefully was acceptable.

  Maynard, a 29 year old who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, chose to end her life this time last year. A California native, she chose to move with her family to Oregon –  a state where assisted suicide had been legalized.

  Maynard chose to die peacefully, with the assistance of life-ending drugs, by the side of her family, instead of naturally – where she would have most likely suffered from seizures and extreme pain, perhaps lack of vision or speech, and eventually become paralyzed and die.

  Before her death, Maynard recorded videos of herself speaking in support of California passing AB 15. The Brittany Maynard fund is still working to make ‘death with dignity’ available for all, nationally.

 While Joy feels that the topic is still a complicated one, he said he does feel that conversations regarding assisted suicide are constructive and productive.

  “I think Governor Brown’s stance (on the legislation) will provide more of a dialogue,” Joy said. “Historically, California’s regulations and new laws have really started a national dialogue. There (are) states that are completely against assisted suicide, … so it is a positive dialogue. It is state by state. Alabama will probably never pass this for years, because their religious standing is that they want to have the loved one there for as long as they want, and they want God to take them instead of a doctor. So standpoints like that, that are heavily religious (are helped by) talking about it. It’s better than being complacent in it.”

 

***
If you or someone you know is being or has been sexually assaulted, email eavgbhs@gmail.com to talk with a member of E.A.V., or call Stand Up Placer’s crisis line (1-800-575-5352) to speak with a trained member for help or for resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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