Wednesday, October 4, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, October 4, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Calif. Lawmakers Advance Right-to-Die Bill

(CN) - The mother and widower of a terminally ill Californian woman moved to Oregon to legally end her life are helping to promote right-to-die legislation being pushed by California lawmakers.

Less than three months ago, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, a Californian diagnosed with aggressive terminal brain cancer, chose to take advantage of Oregon's Death with Dignity law so that she could receive physician-prescribed medications to end her life.

Such measures are not currently allowed under California law.

"Brittany recognized to stay here in California would mean that she potentially would face a horrific death," Maynard's widower, Dan Diaz, said at a news conference. "Brittany was a Californian. We lived in this state and she would have preferred to have passed away peacefully in this state."

Maynard told her story in online videos, which received millions of views, and in national media appearances. She died on Nov. 1, 2014.

Diaz and Maynard's mother, Debbie Ziegler, spoke in support of the End of Life Option Act, which was announced by Senators Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Lois Wolk, D-Davis, on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 128, which would authorize the medical practice of aid-in-dying in California, was co-authored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman, D-Stockton, and Senator Mark Leno, a Democrat representing San Francisco.

"The time is right for California to advance the conversation about the end of life options," Monning said. "We are working together to establish a process that honors a terminally ill patient's right to make informed decisions about dying, including an individual's option to reduce suffering by taking aid-in-dying medication."

The measure is modeled after Oregon's law with two key differences. Translators would be required for non-English speakers, and pharmacists - not just physicians - would be given legal immunity for participating in deaths.

Only qualified terminally ill adults would be able to obtain the life-ending medication, which the patients would be able to self-administer. In order to receive the prescription, patients must have two physicians confirm a prognosis of six months or less to live and undergo a mental competency screening.

In 1992, California voters rejected a broader right-to-die proposal that would have allowed physicians to administer lethal injections to their patients. Narrower bills introduced in 2006 and 2007, which would have allowed patients to get prescriptions to administer themselves, failed in the Legislature.

"It's time for terminally ill patients in California to have the same right to die peacefully in comfort as now allowed in other states," Wolk said. "In the end, how each of us spends our last days of life, if we are fortunate to have that choice, is a deeply personal decision. That decision should remain with the individual, as a matter of personal freedom and liberty, with appropriate protections to prevent any abuse."

In addition to Oregon, medical aid-in-dying is also authorized in Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. Many other states are also considering similar legislation, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"It's hard to understand until it's in your life and it's in your world, how important this choice to die on your own terms becomes," Ziegler said. "But when it does happen to your family, you see that this is a basic human right."

Californians Against Assisted Suicide - a coalition of disability rights, healthcare, civil rights and patient advocacy organizations - plans to aggressively fight the bill.

"Assisted suicide is a direct threat to those who are viewed as a significant cost liability," said Dr. Catherine Campisi, a former director of the California Department of Rehabilitation. "By adding assisted suicide to the suite of treatment options available, it becomes the cheapest option available and makes it easier for implicit and explicit pressure to be levied on the most vulnerable."

There are no assisted-suicide "safeguards" that can protect vulnerable patients, particularly in a state as diverse as California, according to the coalition.

The California Medical Association, which has come out against physician-assisted suicide in the past as unethical, said it will not take a position on the current bill for now.

"We've just recently seen the bill and staff is reviewing it, but we have not taken a position at this time," CMA spokesperson Molly Weedn told Courthouse News. "The bill will go through a rigorous internal vetting process; CMA's Council on Ethical Affairs, as well as the Council on Legislation, will look at the bill and have robust discussions on its impact before our organization takes an official position.

"Longstanding CMA policy, which has been debated numerous times, is in opposition to physician-assisted suicide because it is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as a healer and our historical position has been that patients should receive optimal treatment and comfort care measures, especially at the end of life," Weedn added.

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.