ASSISTED SUICIDE: Aroner Bill Barely Clears Committee
A bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide yesterday narrowly cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee, passing 8-7 when the Assembly's only Green Party member reversed her initial "no" vote after heavy lobbying by the bill's sponsor. Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley) lobbied Assemblywoman Audie Bock (G-Piedmont) for "much of the day" on behalf of her Death With Dignity measure. In the end, Aroner convinced Bock --who was concerned about "the power of health insurers over physicians who care for the terminally ill" -- that the bill would protect patients. "If this bill had been law in Michigan, Dr. Kevorkian would have been in jail a long time ago," Aroner told the committee (Gunnison, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/21). Aroner's bill "would allow a person who has a medical diagnosis stating that they are within six months of death to voluntarily request assistance in dying. The patient must have two physicians involved and be deemed mentally competent," with at least one written request for lethal medication (Gladstone, Los Angeles Times, 4/21). Disabled activists fiercely opposed the bill, fearing that "the health insurance industry will encourage suicides as a way to save money" (Chronicle, 4/21).
The vote coincided with the release of a new Field Poll showing "widespread support" for assisted suicide among a wide range of Californians, with seven in 10 respondents supporting "the concept of allow terminally ill patients to request and receive life-ending medication" (Love, Sacramento Bee, 4/21). Even among Roman Catholic respondents, whose church has been one of the strongest opponents of assisted suicide, "68% favored physician-assisted suicide," and "81% backed allowing families to end life support." Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said, "In earlier measurements, while majorities of Catholics supported these euthanasia procedures, their support was not at the same high level as people of other religions. However, now Catholic support for each active and passive euthanasia set is closer to the feelings expressed by people of other religions" (Chronicle, 4/21).