Senate Committee Debates Assisted Suicide Bill
The Senate Judiciary Committee next week will vote on a bill (AB 651) that would allow doctors to help patients with terminal illnesses end their lives, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/21).
Under the bill, terminally ill patients would have to be declared mentally competent by two doctors and wait for 15 days before they would be able to request a lethal prescription, which they would have to self-administer.
The measure requires that patients not receiving hospice care undergo counseling and includes "numerous requirements" intended to ensure that patients do not enter into the decision "frivolously, impulsively or under duress," according to the Sacramento Bee (Sanders, Sacramento Bee, 6/21). The bill is similar to an Oregon law that allows doctor-assisted suicide.
Opponents of the bill say that doctors have a duty to care for patients, rather than help them die, and that the legislation could lead to a devaluation of a terminally ill person's life. Supporters say physician-assisted suicide should be an available option to alleviate pain and suffering for some patients.
At a hearing on Tuesday, Nicholas Gideonse of the Oregon Health & Science University primary care center told the committee that since Oregon enacted its assisted suicide law eight years ago, there have been no efforts to expand the law to apply to nonterminal patients.
According to the Chronicle, the bill faces an "uncertain fate" in the Assembly if it passes the Senate. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has not taken an official position on the bill but has indicated he likely would veto the bill, the Chronicle reports. In January Schwarzenegger said it is "a decision probably that should go to the people" (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/21).
Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) on Monday said that he supports the measure but would not lobby the Senate Democratic Caucus to do so (Sacramento Bee, 6/21).