San Francisco Chronicle Examines Prospects for Legislation To Legalize Physician-Assisted Suicide
The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday examined the prospects in the Legislature for a measure that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in California in some instances (Hubbell, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/2).
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 in the nation to legalize the practice.
Lawmakers are working with Oregon-based Compassion & Choices, which advocated for Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, to draft the California 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. Family members and legal guardians cannot make the decision for a patient, and doctors with moral or personal objections cannot be required to write lethal prescriptions. Assisted suicide accounts for one-seventh of 1% of Oregon deaths, according to the Oregon Department of Health.
Proposals to legalize the practice have twice failed to gain sufficient support in the California Legislature. 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 medicines to expedite the deaths of terminally ill patients, but she dropped the legislation because of a lack of support (California Healthline, 12/21/04).
Barbara Coombs Lee, co-president of Compassion & Choices, said that in the years since Aroner's bill was defeated, attitudes toward in physician-assisted suicide might have changed among legislators and state residents. She added, "More and more, it's something that people are thinking about, particularly as the baby boom bulge moves into their late 50s. They are ... giving care to their parents as they are dying, and it's probably dawning on many of us that we are mortal."
"You can't stop these issues from being discussed," Aroner said, adding, "You have to make some decisions about what's right and wrong."
However, with Schwarzenegger's views on the issue still undetermined, the prospects for passage of a physician-assisted suicide measure are "unknown," the Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/2).
State legislators' consideration of legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide demonstrates that "there is true rot" in California, where "those who want to kill the sick" are seen "as more compassionate than those who want to treat the sick," San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders writes in an opinion piece.
Saunders states that there is "a world of difference between refusing extraordinary care -- a basic right -- and asking a doctor to give you poison," which is "why the California Medical Association has opposed assisted suicide."
According to Saunders, 22% of the 171 people known to have used medical assistance to end their lives under Oregon's law cited "fear of inadequate pain control as their reason for choosing suicide," and 87% of the Oregon patients cited fear of losing autonomy.
Saunders writes that advocates of physician-assisted suicide "would rather die than lose control" and "rather die than depend on help from others," adding that supporters of the movement "hide behind the sick as they try to change the rules of medicine" (Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/4).