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California Senate Committee Approves End-of-Life Help Line

Legislation that would require California to establish an information line to answer the public’s questions about end-of-life options received approval in a Senate committee on Wednesday despite critics’ concerns that the bill could be mistaken for a suicide hotline.

SB 1002, authored by Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, would make a toll-free number available on the state Department of Public Health’s website. The idea, according to Monning, is to make accurate information easily accessible to terminally ill patients, their families and doctors. These patients may be considering ways to end their lives under a new aid-in-dying law.

The End of Life Option Act, signed into law late last year, takes effect June 9. The new law requires two different doctors to determine that a patient has six months or less to live before prescribing life-ending drugs.  The patient must voluntarily submit two oral requests at least 15 days apart, as well as a written request to the attending physician. And patients must be physically able to swallow the medication themselves,  and have the mental capacity to make medical decisions.

Some advocacy groups are already getting a large number of inquiries about the law and how it works, said Toni Broaddus, a campaign director with Compassion and Choices, a death-with dignity advocacy group.

“People want this information,” she said during the Senate Committee on Health hearing. She estimates that by June, the proposed toll-free number would get up to 1,000 calls a month.

George Eighmey, president of the Death with Dignity National Center, said he often gets calls from California physicians who have questions about the details of the law. Oregon, he noted, has established a web page, answering commonly asked questions, and he suggested California do the same.

Catholic groups and some disability groups are opposed to the law and the information line. The callers could be anyone, critics said,  including people facing depression and other mental illnesses.

Marilyn Golden with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund said the line could easily be perceived as a suicide assistance hotline and send mixed messages to people with mental illness.

Monning disagreed: “This is not a line to persuade people to end their lives, but to provide patients with answers,” he said.

The bill advanced with a 7-2 vote and next will go to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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