Right-to-Die Bill Clears California Assembly

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California lawmakers approved a bill on Wednesday giving terminally ill patients access to lethal medication, and the contentious measure now heads to the state Senate for a final vote.
     The state Assembly advanced the End of Life Option Act with a bipartisan 42-33 vote, after a passionate two-hour special session hearing. Both critics and supporters told emotional stories of family members struggling with terminal illnesses and tearful assembly members admitted the issue was the hardest the Legislature has heard this year.
     “People want to know at the end that their life has meant something, they want to look back and know that it counted,” bill author Rep. Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, said, fighting back tears. “For the most part, they want to die on their own terms.”
     Rep. David Chiu, D-San Francisco, derided the bill’s opponents for suggesting the bill is about suicide and that it doesn’t contain enough safeguards for the prescription of the deadly drugs.
     “This bill is not about suicide, this bill does not affect those who are choosing between living and dying; it’s about providing an option to those already facing death,” Chiu testified.
     Several opponents warned of a scenario where poor and disabled patients might take advantage of the bill and prematurely end their lives because of a lack of access to better health care options.
     “They’ll be subjected to this de facto health care rationing,” said Rep. Marie Waldron, R-Escondido. “Suicide should not be the first option where hospice and palliative care have not been tried.”
     Democratic lawmakers reintroduced the bill after Gov. Jerry Brown called a special session on health and health care. The original bill, Senate Bill 128, was tabled in July after strong opposition from several Catholic lawmakers sitting on the Assembly health committee.
     Brown, a former Catholic seminarian, has not issued his opinion on the legislation but his office questioned the validity of its inclusion in the special session on health care last week.
     Lawmakers accused the bill’s authors of exercising a loophole that fast-tracked the bill and allowed it to pass the health committee.
     “We never saw it in health; it wasn’t vetted through our normal process for whatever reasons so it did not survive that process,” Waldron said regarding the bill’s inclusion into the special session.
     The bill was modeled after a similar Oregon law and Eggman included several amendments before the vote to appease critics, including a sunset provision subjecting the bill to legislative review in 2026. Eggman said the bill has enhanced regulations to prevent fraudulent prescriptions and that its control measures are stronger than Oregon’s law.
     Various lawmakers pointed to a recent statewide poll that found 69 percent of California voters, including 60 percent of Catholic voters, support the End of Life Option Act, including Rep. Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.
     Alejo spoke of his father’s current struggle with terminal bone cancer, asking for his counterparts to respect “his choices” regarding decisions about the end of his life.
     The End of Life Option Act received a boost of support in May when the California Medical Association dropped its long-standing opposition to the bill and several lawsuits were filed against the state by terminally ill patients.
     Supporters packed the Assembly, with many crying and cheering following the successful vote. The legislation was inspired by the story of Brittany Maynard, a California resident who moved to Oregon to legally end her fight against terminal brain cancer. Maynard left a video before she died imploring California lawmakers to adopt similar legislation and her husband, Dan Diaz, attended Wednesday’s vote.

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