Assembly Members To Introduce Assisted-Suicide Bill Similar To Oregon Law
Assembly members Patty Berg (D-Santa Rosa) and Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) will hold two public hearings on physician-assisted suicide in early 2005 and introduce legislation that could make California the second state to legalize the practice, the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Lawmakers are working with Oregon-based Compassion & Choices, which advocated for the Oregon law, to draft their bill. It will be modeled on Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, which since 1997 has given adults with less than six months to live the option to receive lethal medicines, such as fast-acting barbiturates, from a doctor and take it themselves. The Oregon law does not permit euthanasia. In addition, the patient must be determined mentally competent, see two doctors, make written and oral requests for the medicine and wait through a "cooling-off" period, the Mercury News reports.
Family members and legal guardians cannot make the decision for a patient, and doctors with moral or personal objections cannot be forced to write lethal prescriptions. Assisted suicide accounts for one-seventh of 1% of Oregon deaths, according to the Oregon Department of Health.
Although a 1999 Field Poll on assisted suicide found 75% of Californians supported the "'right to ask for and get life-ending medication,'" proposals to legalize the practice have twice failed to gain sufficient support, the Mercury News reports. In 1992, California voters rejected Proposition 161, which would have allowed euthanasia and assisted suicide. Former Assembly member Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley) in 1999 introduced a bill that would have allowed doctors to prescribe medicine that would quicken the deaths of terminally ill patients, but she dropped the legislation because of a lack of support.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) position on the issue "is hard to guess," the Mercury News reports. He is a "Catholic who breaks with church orthodoxy on some social issues, [but he] has not spoken publicly about physician-assisted suicide since taking office," according to the Mercury News.
"We believe that life is a gift from God, from conception to natural death," Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said. He added, "It's certainly not a good thing for doctors to help [patients] kill themselves."
In addition to opposition from Catholic groups, the California Medical Association "contends that doctors must help sustain life, not end it," the Mercury News reports. San Mateo oncologist Rex Greene said most patients who have asked him for assistance in ending their lives have changed their minds after counseling, pain care and hospice services. He asked, "Is [the role of the medical profession] to provide suicide on demand to people who are depressed, or is it to thwart suicide?" (Folmar, San Jose Mercury News, 12/20).