Assembly Appropriations Committee Scheduled To Consider Physician-Assisted Suicide Legislation
The Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday is scheduled to consider a bill (AB 654) that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in some cases, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports. The Assembly Judiciary Committee in April voted 5-3 in favor of the bill.
According to the Press Democrat, California's decision "is considered critical to shaping the national debate" on legalizing physician-assisted suicide. The practice is already legal in Oregon, and Hawaii and Vermont are considering similar legislation, but "all eyes are on California" to set a precedent for other state legislatures, the Press Democrat reports.
Barbara Coombs Lee -- president of Compassion & Choices, which supports legalizing physician-assisted suicide -- said, "California is a small country -- it is enormously important" (Benefield, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 5/15).
The bill, sponsored by Assembly members Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) and Patty Berg (D-Santa Rosa), would allow California residents 18 years of age and older who are determined by a physician to have six months or less to live to end their lives with a self-administered prescription. The bill is modeled after Oregon's law.
Under the bill, a patient's terminal condition would have to be diagnosed by two physicians. In addition, a patient would be required to complete a series of patient-doctor consultations, generally lasting at least two weeks. The bill would not authorize physician-assisted suicide in cases in which the patient is diagnosed with depression. In addition, it would not authorize lethal injection, mercy killings or euthanasia (California Healthline, 4/11).
Appropriations committee member Joe Nation (D-San Rafael) said he had concerns about the bill but likely will support it. He said, "This is a big step for us as a society. Probably most people in California are ready for it, but that doesn't mean we should go forward with it."
Lori Dangberg -- vice president of the Alliance of Catholic Healthcare, which represents 60 hospitals in California and opposes the bill -- said that provisions requiring patients to self-administer the life-ending doses could lead to a lawsuit under the American With Disabilities Act. Dangberg said, "It's not going to be too long before some people with disabilities, with ALS, say, 'Why discriminate against me if I can't legally swallow this? I have as much a right to this as anyone else.'"
Kevin Neely, a spokesperson for the Oregon Attorney General's office, said no such complaint has been raised against Oregon's law.
Opponents of the bill include the California Medical Association, the National Right to Life Committee and the Disability Rights and Education Fund. Supporters of the bill include the California National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 5/15).
KPBS' "KPBS News" on Monday reported on the legislation. The segment includes comments from former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts (D) (Goldberg, "KPBS News," KPBS, 5/16). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.