California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

California Becomes Fifth State To Legalize Physician-Assisted Death

On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill (ABX2-15) to legalize physician-assisted death in California, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports (Siders/Koseff, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 10/5).

For more information on the bill, see today's "Capitol Desk" post.

Details of Law

Assembly member Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) introduced the legislation during a special session on health care financing after a similar measure (SB 128) stalled in July amid a lack of support in the Assembly Committee on Health.

ABX2-15 will allow some dying patients to end their lives through lethal doses of medication, as long as:

  • Medication is self-administered;
  • The patient is mentally competent; and
  • Two physicians confirm the prognosis that the patient has six months or less to live.

Several amendments were added to the bill in the special session, including one that requires patients to reaffirm their consent within 48 hours prior to taking the lethal dose of medication.

The bill's authors also added an amendment to sunset the law after a decade, making it effective only until Jan. 1, 2026. However, the state Legislature could vote to extend it (California Healthline, 9/18).

Brown Signs Legislation

In a signing message, Brown wrote that he consulted with stakeholders "who take varied, contradictory and nuanced positions" on the bill before signing it.

In deciding to sign the bill into law, Brown wrote, "I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain," adding, "I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn't deny that right to others" (Lovett/Pérez-Peña, New York Times, 10/5).

The law will not take effect until 90 days after the Legislature's special session ends.

According to "Capitol Alert," the special session on health is still open, and it is unclear when lawmakers will vote to close it ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 10/5). However, lawmakers expect it to end sometime next year (New York Times, 10/5).

The new law makes California the fifth state to allow physician-assisted death.

Reaction

Brown's decision to sign the bill drew both praise and criticism from stakeholders (Bharath, Orange County Register, 10/5).

Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, said the bill's enactment represents "the biggest victory for the death-with-dignity movement since Oregon passed the nation's first law two decades ago" ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 10/5).

Toni Broaddus, Compassion & Choices California campaign director, said the group now plans to launch a statewide education campaign about the law "so that everyone is clear on what the act does or doesn't do" (O'Neill, "KPCC News," AP/KPCC, 10/5).

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in a statement said that Brown "was absolutely correct" in signing the measure, noting that the legislation includes several safeguards (Feinstein statement, 10/5).

However, opponents criticized Brown for signing the measure.

Tim Rosales, a spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide, said, "This is a dark day for California and for the Brown legacy" ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 10/5). He added that individuals with disabilities and those with limited access to care will have the option to die if they are struggling to get treatment.

He said, "The governor's decision is based on his background as someone with access to doctors and quality health care," noting, "Things are different for other families that will potentially be hurt by the signing of this bill."

He said CAAS will look into several options to halt the law, including legal action (Orange County Register, 10/5).

Meanwhile, state Sen. Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) in a statement said, "By signing this legislation, the governor ignores warnings from many physicians that patients facing end-of-life decisions may be subtly pressured to choose death rather than hold out hope for a cure" (Huff statement, 10/5).

Editorials Praise Law's Passage

Meanwhile, several editorials in California newspapers applauded Brown for signing the right-to-die legislation.

A Los Angeles Times editorial states that "this signing stands out not only because it offers a choice to so many people but because the adoption of such an important law in a state this big gives a big boost to efforts elsewhere," adding, "California no longer will" deny the "choice over life and death to anyone" (Los Angeles Times, 10/5).

Meanwhile, a San Jose Mercury News editorial states that "Brown enhanced California's reputation for being a compassionate, progressive state" by signing the measure. The editorial concludes, "Californians should take pride in knowing that beginning next year it will be treating those with a terminal diagnosis with the compassion they deserve" (San Jose Mercury News, 10/5).

A San Diego Union-Tribune editorial adds that "Brown made a difficult but correct decision" in signing the legislation. Noting that there are "sufficient safeguards to prevent abuse," the editorial concludes that while many Californians with terminal illnesses may "opt not to end their own lives ... it is good that we will all have that choice" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/5).

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