November 28, 2021

Did the leader in California’s governor’s race assist his mother’s suicide?

Gavin Newsom makes a startling admission in interview with The New Yorker

More bioethics in American politics. As election day on Tuesday approaches, Democrat Gavin Newsom has a commanding lead in the race for governor of California. Newsom, often described as a “Kennedy-esque” figure, is currently lieutenant-governor. A flattering profile in this week’s issue of The New Yorker unpacks his campaign slogan, “Courage for a Change”: “Newsom seeks to embody [Bobby] Kennedy’s grainy glamour, to provide moral clarity in a bewildering hour.”

The moral clarity is not evident on bioethical issues. On the one hand, he has insisted that he identifies as a Catholic. “I still maintain a strong sense of faith,” he said in 2009. “The Irish-Catholic rebel, I guess, in some respects, but one that still has tremendous admiration for the Church and very strong faith. It's manifested for me in a less indoctrinated way, but the core principles still apply.”

On the other hand, he is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage, abortion rights and physician-assisted suicide.

And, he revealed to The New Yorker, in 2002 he assisted his mother to commit suicide when she was suffering from breast cancer.

In May, 2002, his mother decided to end her life through assisted suicide. Newsom recalled, “She left me a message, because I was too busy: ‘Hope you’re well. Next Wednesday will be the last day for me. Hope you can make it … The night before we gave her the drugs, I cooked her dinner, hard-boiled eggs, and she told me, ‘Get out of politics.’ She was worried about the stress on me.”

As Wesley J. Smith points out in a column in the National Review, there are legal and moral problems with this account of his mother’s death. First, assisted suicide was a felony in California in 2002, so Newsom is actually confessing to having committed a serious crime. Second, loneliness and neglect may have motivated his mother’s suicide. Smith comments: “Newsom’s cancer-stricken mother had to leave a message that she was going to kill herself because he wasn’t visiting her or keeping in regular touch.”

So, whether “Golden Boy 2.0” (as The New Yorker dubbed him) will provide “moral clarity in a bewildering hour” remains to be seen. Wait for Tuesday evening!

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