Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill Defeated
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday defeated legislation (AB 651) that would have allowed terminally ill patients to obtain life-ending prescription drugs, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/28).
The committee voted 2-2, with Chair Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove) unexpectedly rejecting the bill. One senator was absent (Lin, Sacramento Bee, 6/28).
The bill would have allowed doctors to prescribe a life-ending drug dose for terminally ill patients who had been found mentally competent by two physicians and had fewer than six months to live. Patients would have to self-administer the dose (Lawrence, AP/Contra Costa Times, 6/28). The measure, modeled after a 1997 Oregon law, would have allowed doctors to refuse to participate (Ainsworth, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/28). The U.S. Supreme Court in January upheld the Oregon law (Geissinger, Oakland Tribune, 6/28).
The legislation was introduced last year by Assembly members Patty Berg (D-Santa Rosa) and Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) but stalled on the Assembly floor (San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/28).
Opponents of the bill argued that HMOs and insurance companies would influence the health care decisions of patients with illnesses that are costly to treat (Vogel, Los Angeles Times, 6/28). Supporters countered that terminally ill patients should be able to end intense suffering.
Dunn said that he was concerned that "the power of money" eventually would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medications for people other than the terminally ill. According to Dunn, the influence of money could come from HMOs, insurance companies or the state government's unwillingness to fund end-of-life care (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/28).
Levine said he and Berg might try to revive the legislation before the session ends in September (Los Angeles Times, 6/28). However, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) was not expected to sign the bill. Schwarzenegger in January said that the decision should be left to voters (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/28).
Barbara Coombs Lee -- executive director of the not-for-profit Compassion & Choices, which lobbied for the bill -- said the group would not try again to pass legislation to legalize assisted suicide in California. She added that a ballot measure would be "much too expensive, much too inflammatory" (Los Angeles Times, 6/28). However, the Tribune reports that supporters indicated they would consider working to qualify a ballot measure to legalize physician-assisted suicide for a future ballot (Oakland Tribune, 6/28).