NBC Hypes California's New Assisted Suicide Law, Slants 4-2 Towards Supporters

June 9th, 2016 8:59 PM

Miguel Almaguer touted "medical aid in dying" in California on Thursday's NBC Nightly News, as the state's new assisted suicide law went into effect. Almaguer showed a clear slant towards proponents of the legislation by playing four soundbites from supporters, versus only two from opponents. He also failed to mention that one booster of the new law was involved in a lawsuit against California's state government to gain the so-called "freedom to control her death." [video below]

Lester Holt labeled the new California law "controversial" three separate times during his teasers and intro for Almaguer's report. Holt continued during the lead-in that the statute "has a lot of people asking, what would they do?" The correspondent wasted little time before playing two clips from Elizabeth Wallner, who supports the "End of Life Option Act." Almaguer labeled the cancer patient a "survivor; but today, the 52-year-old now says she has the freedom to control her death."

What the NBC journalist left out is that Wallner "sued the State of California for the right to end her life with medication," as CBS's Dr. John LaPook noted during his own slanted report on the March 13, 2016 edition of 60 Minutes. LaPook also pointed out that Wallner "was raised Catholic, [and] disagrees with those who say aid-in-dying goes against God's will."

Almaguer featured two soundbites from opponents of the law — Dr. Neil Wenger of UCLA and Steve Pehanich, a lobbyist for California's Catholic bishops — near the middle of his report. However, he followed it with clips from Brittany Maynard, who killed herself with the help of a doctor in November 2014; and a final one from Wallner. Holt ended the segment by declaring, "It's a tough subject. "

This isn't the first time NBC Nightly News boosted the "right to die" law in California. On the July 19, 2015 edition of the evening newscast, correspondent Hallie Jackson hyped the plight of Christy O’Donnell, who, like Wallner, sued the Golden State for "the right to choose when and where she will die by taking prescribed medicine."

The full transcript of Miguel Almaguer's report and Lester Holt's teases from NBC Nightly News on June 9, 2016:

07:00 pm EDT
NBC Nightly News

LESTER HOLT (teaser): The right to die for terminally-ill patients — a controversial new law about the most personal decision any of us could make; and as doctors debate the ethics, people wonder, what would I do?

07:14 pm EDT

LESTER HOLT (teaser): Still ahead tonight: the right to die — letting patients facing terminal illnesses end their lives on their terms — a controversial law takes effect.

07:17 pm EDT

LESTER HOLT: In California today, a controversial new law took effect, and it has a lot of people asking, what would they do? It's called the End of Life Option Act, and it gives terminally-ill patients the right to end their lives. California becomes the fifth state to do so.

National correspondent Miguel Almaguer has more.

[NBC News Graphic: "Controversy Over 'Right To Die' Law"]

ELIZABETH WALLNER: Didn't you? You're amazing!

MIGUEL ALMAGUER (voice-over): Elizabeth Wallner is a survivor; but today, the 52-year-old now says she has the freedom to control her death.

WALLNER: The likelihood of me dying of old age is slim.

ALMAGUER: Wallner lives with stage-four colon cancer — has endured six surgeries and countless rounds of chemo and radiation.

WALLNER: I don't want to die in a painful, heinous, horrible, frightening way.

ALMAGUER: Starting today under California's end-of-life act, terminally-ill patients can request medical aid in dying.

DR. NEIL WENGER, UCLA INTERNAL MEDICINE: This is a law that allows a doctor to do something that a doctor has never been allowed to do before; and it's a bit scary.

ALMAGUER (on-camera): California's law requires the terminally ill to make three requests with witnesses, separated by 15 days. Patients must have the approval of two doctors.

ALMAGUER (voice-over): The new law worries many — including the Catholic Church.

STEVE PEHANICH, CALIFORNIA CATHOLIC CONFERENCE OF BISHOPS: This is the time when they'll need the most help; and we shouldn't abandon them.

ALMAGUER: Brittany Maynard moved from California to Oregon two years ago, so the terminally-ill cancer patient could end her suffering.

BRITTANY MAYNARD: Every terminally-ill American deserves the choice to die with dignity.

ALMAGUER: Tonight, it's estimated 1,500 patients would pursue aid in dying. For many, like Elizabeth Wallner—

WALLNER: It's a medical decision; and now that I can actually make it, it's pretty — pretty great — pretty calming.

ALMAGUER: Miguel Almaguer, NBC News, Los Angeles.

HOLT (live): It's a tough subject.