ASK THE ATTORNEY: An Interview with Kevin C. Bedolla

Kevin C. Bedolla has been practicing law in San Jose for over 35 years. A graduate of Santa Clara University and Santa Clara University School of Law, Mr. Bedolla first became involved in pro-life legal matters in the late 1980s.

Please tell me a little about your professional background.

I have been an attorney since 1976. For most of my career, I have focused my practice mostly on business matters. I have handled everything from business formations and management to business litigation. My practice areas include employment law, trade secrets disputes, unfair business practices, and commercial collections. About two to three years ago, I realized that the “culture of death” was entering into a very different phase and was widening its target to those who were already born. One of the more obvious examples of this is the increasing pressure to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. I felt I needed to do something.

How and why did you first become active in pro-life matters?

It all started about 30 years ago when I started attending Mass at Our Lady of Peace Church in Santa Clara. The pastor at the time, the late Msgr. John Sweeny (at the time, Fr. Sweeny), was a very orthodox priest who early on recognized the growing battle against life. He helped make Our Lady of Peace into a center of pro-life activity in the San Francisco Bay Area. One example of his foresight: during the late 1980s Fr. Sweeny invited the late Fr. Paul Marx to visit Our Lady of Peace. For the better part of a week, Fr. Marx gave pro-life sermons at each Mass. This was not unique. Consequently, anyone who attended mass at Our Lady of Peace either embraced the culture of life or went elsewhere. Also, in the late 1980s, Msgr. Sweeny asked me and a number of other attorneys to help defend some defendants who were being sued and prosecuted in some Operation Rescue-related cases. I recall two cases specifically.

One was a suit by Planned Parenthood against several “protesters” seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages. I represented one of the defendants. The one thing about that case that I will never forget was the lead attorney for Planned Parenthood. He had the coldest eyes I have ever seen.

The second was a criminal case. Two firemen were being prosecuted for carrying a photograph of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe while praying the rosary near an abortion clinic in Sunnyvale. This was not a normal picture. It was one of about five that had been commissioned by the Cardinal of Mexico City and blessed by him. At the time, Sunnyvale had an ordinance limiting the size of protest signs. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was about three inches narrower than the maximum permitted by the ordinance, but was also about two inches too tall. What I will never forget about this case was how it was disposed of.

When I met with the judge and assistant district attorney to discuss a possible plea bargain, I was stunned when both the judge and the assistant district attorney said that the case was going to be dismissed. At the time that was a very rare event in Santa Clara County. I attributed this result solely to Our Lady.

When many people hear the term “prolife”, their first thought is that it is a reference to abortion or abortion-related issues. But “pro-life” is broader than that, isn’t it?

That is correct and it is becoming more apparent every day. The life issues by their nature have always encompassed everything from contraception and abortion to assisted suicide and euthanasia. I remember about 20 years ago coming across a short treatise prepared by Human Life International that analyzed the impact of birth control on a society; every society that accepted birth control eventually accepted euthanasia and assisted suicide. And that is what has happened in United States.

About 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized contraception. 40 years ago it legalized abortion. Now we have reached the final stage where the courts and legislatures are starting to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia is being practiced secretly.

Euthanasia is hardly rare in this country. Excepting rare cases, like that of Terri Schiavo, most cases of euthanasia never see the light of day. In October 2011, a doctor and I gave a talk entitled “End-of -Life Issues from a Catholic Prospective.” The doctor informed the audience that he believed 100,000 people were being euthanized in American hospitals annually. Based on my research, I believe that the doctor’s estimate was low by a factor of 2 or 3. Since that talk, a number of people have told me stories about relatives—usually a parent—who had probably been euthanized in a hospital. In many cases, their parent was given morphine for a condition that did not merit morphine, like a stroke. There is no question in my mind that those supporting euthanasia and assisted suicide are becoming increasingly bold.

What tools do we have to protect ourselves and others from being euthanized?

While the best tools are spiritual, we can do some things to protect ourselves and loved ones from being euthanized. There are essentially four things that we can do; (1) have an Advance Health Care Directive that is consistent with orthodox Catholic principles, (2) appoint a health care agent who will adhere to orthodox Catholic principles, (3) make sure your treating physicians are prolife, and (4) be treated at a hospital that operates under pro-life principles. We have the most control over the first two. The last two can be problematic, because you often cannot control where you will be hospitalized. Further, simply finding a pro-life hospital can be difficult. One doctor who has researched the matter told me that he thought there was only one hospital in the State of California that operated under prolife principles and maybe one other.

Finding a pro-life doctor can also be very difficult. Unfortunately, as is the case with attorneys, most doctors are not pro-life. No matter how careful you are, circumstances can neutralize your efforts. If you are on vacation in another state and involved in a serious accident, you will be taken to the nearest hospital.

Under HIPAA (“Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act”), the admitting hospital is required to present you with a number of documents to sign, including an Advance Health Care Directive. Even though you are not required to sign it, it will still be presented to you and it is unlikely that anyone will tell you that you are not required to sign it. You probably won’t be asked if you have your own Advance Health Care Directive. The Advance Health Care Directive presented to you by the hospital will likely not be similar to the one you prepared nor will it be pro-life. Then consider your state of mind. How many of us, when being admitted to a hospital after a traumaticevent, have the presence of mind to carefully read everything presented to us? I find it difficult enough to get myself to carefully read legal papers in my office.

When we are brought to a hospital we are under a lot of stress and often in shock. We just want to be treated. None of us reads these documents very closely. We just sign to be admitted and treated. And do not forget the health care agent you chose. If he/she is not readily available, someone who is available will probably be appointed.

What is an “Advance Health Care directive”?

An Advance Health Care Directive is a document whereby an individual essentially does two things; (1) states how they want to be cared for if they are incapable of making such decisions when treatment is needed, and (2) identifies the person they want to make certain medical decisions for them if they are incapable of doing so. The document typically only becomes effective when the person is rendered incapable of making decisions. This can occur if they become incapable of making any decisions [often by being rendered comatose due to a stroke or some head trauma or they become demented]. The primary care physician typically makes this decision.

With respect to a template for Advance Health Care Directives, there are a number of organizations that have prepared Catholic versions, including the Life Legal Defense Foundation [LLDF] and Patients Rights Council.

While there are a number of technical requirements for an Advance Health Care Directive, you cannot forget the medical considerations. For instance, if you do not prepare your Advance Health Care Directive carefully, you could authorize your health care agent to have the hospital withhold food and water from you. The media rarely informs us of the implications of such an event. It usually leads to a drawn out and excruciatingly painful death, usually from dehydration over a 10–14 day period.

While you can draft a Advance Health Care Directive that has a number of specific guidelines for your treatment, even if you have a trusted agent, you should communicate periodically with that person to make sure they understand your wishes and will follow them.

Is an Advance Health Care directive a legal document?

Yes, it is. Consequently, it needs to be done in the manner required by law. In California, for instance, the Advance Health Care Directive needs to be dated when executed, signed by the patient (or someone at their direction in their presence), and either acknowledged before a notary or signed by two witnesses. [Probate Code  §4673]. The California Probate Code, starting at Section 4600, deals with health care decisions. The Uniform Health Care Act starts at Section 4670. It is also important to know that each state has its own requirements for Advance Health Care Directives. If you prepare an Advance Health Care Directive that does not conform to your state law, it may not be enforceable.

Do people need go to lawyers to have these documents prepared?

While it is not necessary for a person to have a lawyer prepare an Advance Health Care Directive, it is generally a good idea. There are some excellent pro-life attorneys who will help your with these at very little if any costs. Even if you decide not to use an attorney, it is still a good idea to discuss these decisions with a trusted advisor who understands the process and has an orthodox Catholic prospective.

Would you comment on the importance of choosing the right health care agent?

Of the four “tools” I described earlier, this is probably the most important. The person you choose may literally have your life in their hands. Further, your health care agent may be the “last line” in defense of your life and the person most capable of responding to changed circumstances. If you have an Advance Health Care Directive, it does not matter very much how well it is drafted if the person you appointed as your health care agent ignores it and your wishes. It is highly recommended that your health care agent have an orthodox Catholic prospective in life matters. Your health care agent needs to be compelled to do the right thing by God. If they do not have this perspective, they will often be tempted to make incorrect decisions. They likely will not have the courage to stand up to hospital ethicists and doctors who often pressure people into anti-life decisions.

An obvious example of the importance of one’s choice of a health care agent is the Terri Schiavo case. Terri’s husband was made Terri’s health care agent. We know what happened there.  If Terri had prepared an Advance Health Care Directive appointing her mother as her health care agent, the result in Terri’s case would have been dramatically different.

What about those who have no family member or friend who they can trust to carry out their wishes as health care agent?

Right now there is nothing in place to deal with this problem. These people are on their own. Traditionally, parents could trust their children to act as their health care agents. Today, one’s own children may be some of the least trustworthy people to act as health care agents. This is particularly the case when people have converted late in life and discover that their children do not embrace the same Christian values that they now embrace, particularly on life issues. The problem is even worse when people have built up a significant amount of wealth. The sad truth is that, too often in these cases, their children are often more interested in their inheritance than in their parents wellbeing. And people without children are sometimes even more vulnerable as they can fall prey to strangers who are only interested in their money. One solution we are exploring is to form a group of volunteers who are willing to act as health care agents. I suspect that this could take the form of a Third Order. These people would accept the burden of acting as health care agents for people who need one but cannot identify anyone they can trust to carry out the responsibilities utilizing Catholic principles.

Why Third Orders?

You need people who will do this for the highest purpose, not people who are doing this professionally. While it does not necessarily need to be a Third Order, forming an order of religious to take on this task is not likely in the near future. On the other hand, forming a group of people who are willing to perform somewhat like a religious order is more feasible. An example is the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Volunteers to this organization are not paid and help because it is an act of charity. This is essentially what we are referring to.

Are there any new developments on the horizon in terms of tools people can use, or steps they can take, to protect themselves and their loved ones from euthanasia?

There are a number of things being discussed to deal with the problem proactively. The internet provides wonderful opportunities. One idea is to form panels of pro-life doctors and lawyers. Another concept is to create a website that can be accessed by health care agents to provide them with needed information and to answer questions.

This is not a battle that we are going to win anytime soon, is it?

The battle for life will likely be with us until the end of the world. We have to be realistic about what we are confronting.  We need to be prudent about how we approach it. And we must be humble about what we can accomplish. This is a spiritual battle and not a battle against other people. At the end of the recent LLDF dinner, the priest who gave the closing message said, “We have to look to God and realize that we cannot do it alone.” We are not going to achieve anything because of our talents and skills alone. We need to be humble and seek help from God.

What advice would you give to an attorney who is considering doing pro-life work?

Pray a lot. I do not think anyone can do anything effectively in this line of work unless they are prayerful. You need to realize that this is a much more profound battle than might otherwise be apparent. It is a religious battle at the highest level. The deck is often stacked against us. If someone does not understand this, they will not get it and will probably become very discouraged and disillusioned. This type of work is not a “resume builder.” You can lose family and friends because of it. If you have aspirations of becoming a judge someday, you could find this type of work will make you “unqualified.” That said, we know we are on the right team and that in the end we are on the side that will win… just not necessarily during our lifetime.

For information on pro-life advance health care directives, please see Advance Medical Directives—Ed.