CNN wasn't interested in balance on Tuesday, as three straight programs brought on pro-euthanasia activists to tout California's new "End of Life Option Act," which was signed into law on Monday. All three also left out opponents of the legislation. CNN Newsroom featured a man whose wife was the subject of a HBO documentary titled How to Die in Oregon. On At This Hour, Kate Bolduan hyped the "groundbreaking move," and interviewed a "right to die advocate" with terminal cancer. Legal View turned to the widower of pro-euthanasia activist Brittany Maynard, who took her life in November 2014. [video clips from At This Hour below]
Fill-in anchor Ana Cabrera interviewed Stan Curtis on CNN Newsroom, whose wife, Cody, "used Oregon's death with dignity law to end her life in 2009." After playing a clip from the How to Die In Oregon documentary, Cabrera asked, "What's your reaction to this new law in California?" After Curtis spotlighted the "very thoughtful and important choice for people to have," the journalist did acknowledge that the subject is "controversial," but continued tossing softball questions:
ANA CABRERA: Because it's controversial – or because, I imagine, it's hard to let somebody you love go – is it difficult for you to talk about this issue?
STAN CURTIS, WIFE CHOSE TO DIE IN 2009: Oh, yes. I think it's very difficult for people to talk about. But Sheila Nevins, our sponsor from HBO for the movie, was shocked that her team of 24 documentary experts couldn't really watch the initial movie all the way through, when they had done so many...tragedies...I think it's a very difficult topic, and I'm so impressed that a large state like California could vote this in – and the governor could sign this – with understanding a personal choice, and willing to share that choice for others....
CABRERA: Describe for us what it was like for your family in making this decision – your wife's decision – to die on her own terms.
CABRERA: You mentioned that California is one of the larger states that has a law now. There are only five states that have legalized what many consider physician-assisted suicide. Why is that, do you think?
CURTIS: Oh, it's so hard to talk about. You know, even in my family, we have multiple religious perspectives. And I'm sure most of the family was not supportive of the law when it was initially voted on. But everybody in my family appreciates Cody's story and her choice. So, I think that's a vocabulary that needs to get built. And for some reason, the western states have made further progress on the sharing of that story with others. I think Canada is also quite advanced in this regard.
CABRERA: Do you personally have any regrets?
CURTIS: No. I'm quite proud of the story, and I think it's been very important to all parts of the family and growing the family into a more meaningful set of sharing, day by day, important traditions....
Over an hour later, At This Hour anchors Bolduan and John Berman turned to Christy O'Donnell, who has stage four lung cancer. Bolduan used her "groundbreaking move" term during the teaser for the segment. She led into the interview of O'Donnell by zeroing in on how "the [euthanasia] movement has really gained support in California, after one terminally-ill patient, Brittany Maynard...moved from California to Oregon to end her life. She was very public with her struggle before ending her life last September." After playing a clip from one of Maynard's pro-euthanasia videos, the two anchors followed Cabrera's lead in giving their guest the kid glove treatment:
KATE BOLDUAN: Christy O'Donnell...is a right-to-die advocate as well. She's fought hard for this right as well – also diagnosed with stage four lung cancer that she has been battling for some time now. Christie, thank you so much for coming on. I think the most important question is, after the fight that you have had – not only with cancer; but then, with the law – what was your reaction when you found out that this was happening in California?
CHRISTY O'DONNELL, RIGHT TO DIE ADVOCATE: It's a very bittersweet moment. I was first very proud of our governor to have the courage to – not only look into his heart and make a decision – but also, accurately represent what over 75 percent of Californians want, and people like me need. So, I was very happy about that.
JOHN BERMAN: You know, there are so many parts of this debate that I think that people don't fully understand or appreciate. You know, more than 30 percent of the people in the states where it is allowed who get the drugs never take them. You know, it's about the choice itself. And Christy, I heard you say – you know, people need to understand: you don't want to die. More than anything, you want to live.
O'DONNELL: ... I do not want to die, but my disease is going to kill me. That is a medical certainty. So, at this point, I just don't want to die painfully and in a protracted manner in front of my daughter, where she'd be forced to sit vigil by my bed for days or even weeks before I passed away.
BOLDUAN: ...[T]here's an important part about this that folks need to understand...this is going into effect, but this right might not go into effect in time for you. How do you make sense of that? Because...if it does not go into place and time for you, is it just a cruel irony of the fight that you've been waging?
O'DONNELL: You know, I think that's a very accurate way to articulate it – you know?...
BERMAN: Talk to me about your daughter – because it's one thing, I think, always to find the strength in yourself to do something – to make a decision like this. How do you talk her about this? How does she feel?
Bolduan ended the segment by praising O'Donnell: "Well, Christy, thank you for your strength; thanks for your courage; and thanks for sharing your story with us."
Less than a half hour after the At This Hour segment, Legal View host Ashleigh Banfield read an extended excerpt from California Governor Jerry Brown's letter to the California State Assembly, which explained his decision to sign the "End of Life Option Act." She also played the same clip of Brittany Maynard featured on the previous program. Like her three colleagues, she tossed softball questions at Dan Diaz, Maynard's widower:
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD: I can't help but think that this is somehow bittersweet for you – seeing this legislation signed in the state you left.
DAN DIAZ, BRITTANY MAYNARD's WIDOWER: Yeah. I feel a great sense of gratitude for the governor, and those last two sentences of the letter that you read about not knowing what the decision he might make – but recognizing that it would provide a huge amount of comfort to a person like Brittany Maynard, and not wanting to stand in the way of that....
BANFIELD: I want to ask you about something I read that you had written – and that is that this was Brittany's last dying wish.
DIAZ: Well, it was – it was one of the wishes that this would be legal in California, our home state, so that nobody else would have to go through what she went through – of having to leave home; establish a new medical team; find a new – you know, rent a house – residency up in Oregon. So, it's certainly was something that she was fighting for, so that nobody would have to endure what she did at the end of her life.
BANFIELD: Do you also, as you've gone through this terrible odyssey, do you also recognize what the governor was referring to in his letter – and that is that the critics, and what they say about the right to end your own life? They're concerned about – you know, people like greedy heirs who might speed the process and take advantage of this sort of an opportunity for their own gain.
The program's online video connection to Diaz was cut off prematurely before he could answer Banfield's sympathetic "terrible odyssey" question (which at least mentioned the criticisms of the California law). Before she ended the segment, the anchor underlined that she wanted her guest to "answer some of those questions about this very important moment in California history – the signing of the right to end your life bill."
This completely one-sided treatment of a controversial issue from CNN stands out when compared to a segment from nearly a year earlier in October 2014. On CNN Tonight, anchor Don Lemon actually brought on a Navy veteran/Catholic seminarian with terminal brain cancer, who had posted an open letter to Brittany Maynard urging her not to take her own life. Earlier in the program, Lemon also brought on pro-euthanasia activist from the "Compassion and Choices" organization that was backing Maynard's cause.