Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill Clears Assembly Committee, Heads to Assembly Floor
As expected, the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a bill (AB 654) that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in some cases, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Without commenting on the legislation, the committee voted 11-5 in favor of the bill, with most Democratic committee members supporting the bill and all Republican members opposing it (Hubbell, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/26).
Under the bill, sponsored by Assembly members Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) and Patty Berg (D-Santa Rosa), state residents ages 18 and older with six months or less to live would be allowed to end their lives with a self-administered prescription. A patient's terminal condition would have to be diagnosed by two physicians, and the patient would be required to complete a series of patient-doctor consultations, generally lasting at least two weeks.
In addition, the bill would not authorize lethal injection, mercy killings or euthanasia, nor would it authorize physician-assisted suicide in cases in which the patient is diagnosed with depression. Physicians who administer lethal prescriptions could not be held liable under the bill. The bill is modeled after a 1994 Oregon law that legalized physician-assisted suicide in some cases.
The bill is expected to face a closer vote on the Assembly floor next week (California Healthline, 5/24). According to the Chronicle, although opposition to the bill is primarily Republican-led, some "vocal opposition among Democrats remains." For example, Assembly member Nicole Parra (D-Bakersfield) issued a statement opposing the bill and Assembly Judiciary Committee member Cindy Montanez (D-Mission Hills) joined Republicans in voting against the bill when it cleared the committee by a 5-3 vote in April.
If the bill passes the Assembly, it would still need to pass at least one Senate committee and a vote by the full Senate before going to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) for consideration, which "could prove one of the more difficult dilemmas for the governor" so far, the Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/26).
Oregon's law "has eased pain and provided dignity, comfort and peace of mind to patients and their families" in that state, and the California bill "should be given the chance to do the same here," a Los Angeles Times editorial states. According to the editorial, "few of the hysterical predications of the Oregon law's opponents have come to pass."
In addition, like the Oregon law, California's bill contains "safeguards to protect vulnerable patients and prevent coercion," the editorial states. The editorial concludes that the bill is "a better solution" than a ballot initiative because "no one needs the distorted media campaigns and pandering to voters' worst fears that would accompany a measure on such a sensitive issue" (Los Angeles Times, 5/25).
CBS' "Evening News" on Wednesday reported on the legislation. The segment includes comments from Berg; Angel Luevano, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens; and a U.S. resident with lung cancer who supports the legislation (Whitaker, "Evening News," CBS, 5/25). The complete transcript of the segment is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on the upcoming vote on the legislation and how the experience of an Oregon resident "is a key part" of the debate in California. The segment includes comments from Levine and Kenneth Stevens, vice president of the Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation (Fogarty, "Morning Edition," NPR, 5/26). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.