California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

California Senate Committee Advances Right-To-Die Legislation

On Wednesday, the California Senate Health Committee voted along party lines to approve a right-to-die bill (SB 128) that would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to patients with terminal illnesses, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports (Cadelago, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 3/25).

The measure now heads to the state Senate Judiciary Committee (McGreevy, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 3/25).

Details of Bill

The End of Life Options Act, by state Sens. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and William Monning (D-Carmel), would give patients with terminal illnesses the right to seek life-ending medication from their doctor.

Specifically, the bill would require that:

  • The medication is self-administered;
  • The patient is mentally competent;
  • Two physicians confirm the prognosis that the patient has six months or less to live;
  • The patient's physician discusses alternatives and additional treatment options;
  • The patient submits a written request and two oral requests made at least 15 days apart; and
  • Two witnesses attest to the request.

In addition, the bill would require an interpreter for non-English speakers.

Pharmacists and doctors would be given legal immunity for participating and would be able to opt out (California Healthline, 3/18).

Details of Committee Hearing

The 6-2 vote to approve SB 128, with both committee Republicans opposing the measure, followed a heated debate among medical, religious and disability-rights groups, "Capitol Alert" reports. State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) abstained from the vote ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 3/25).

During the hearing, Christy O'Donnell, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer, urged support for the measure, describing her battle against terminal cancer and how she wants to decide how to die.

Meanwhile, Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, said that passing the measure could cause some individuals to be coerced to end their lives. She said, "It's a deadly mix to combine our broken, profit-driven health care system and assisted suicide, which would instantly become the cheapest treatment."

As part of the hearing's testimony, committee members also viewed a video recorded by a California resident who last year moved to Oregon to legally end her life ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 3/25).

Brittany Maynard, who had an inoperable brain tumor, died in Oregon on Nov. 1, 2014, using a lethal dose of barbiturates prescribed by her doctor (California Healthline, 2/12).

In the posthumous video, Maynard called on California and U.S. lawmakers to pass right-to-die measures similar to SB 128. Maynard in the video said, "Every terminally ill American deserves the choice to die with dignity" (Lazo, Wall Street Journal, 3/25).

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