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‘Much Has Changed’ Since Legislature Last Considered an End-of-Life Bill

A dozen legislators on Wednesday gathered on a stage in Sacramento to officially introduce SB 128 by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and co-authored by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel). The bill would allow some dying patients to end their lives through medical means.

“With this bill, we are establishing the legal right to exercise choice at the end of life,” Monning said.

Similar legislation has been introduced in California several times. The most recent attempt was defeated in 2007.

But it’s different this time around, Wolk said.  

“Much has changed in the last decade, since the last time this came before the [California] Legislature,” Wolk said. “Since then, four more states have joined Oregon in allowing end-of-life options.”

Oregon in 1997 was the first to establish an end-of-life policy, at the time referred to as physician-assisted suicide. Four other states — Washington, Montana, New Mexico and Vermont — have approved some form of the policy. Three other states — Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey — have rejected similar legislation.

California voters rejected a right-to-die ballot initiative in 1992. Recent legislative attempts to establish new law in California failed in 1999, 2006 and 2007.   

One of the big hurdles to passage has been ongoing opposition by the California Medical Association. So far, the CMA has not taken an official stance on this most recent proposal.

“We’ve just recently seen the bill and staff is reviewing it, but we have not taken a position at this time,” said Molly Weedn, director of media relations for the CMA, in a written statement.

“Longstanding CMA policy, which has been debated numerous times, is in opposition to physician-assisted suicide because it is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as a healer,” Weedn said. “Our historical position has been that patients should receive optimal treatment and comfort care measures, especially at the end of life.”

Previous opposition has come from disability-rights groups and from the Catholic church.

In yesterday’s introduction of the bill, supporters included a pastor, Ignacio Castuera, the director of the Latin America Project of the Center for Process Studies at the Claremont School of Theology in Southern California, as well as physician Robert Olvera from East Los Angeles, who lost his 25-year-old daughter to cancer.

“Until recently, end of life never would have crossed my mind,” Olvera said, whose daughter, Emily Rose Olvera, died in April last year. “As a Catholic, I never lost hope, but as a physician, I knew what was in store for Emily,” he said. “She didn’t die the way she wanted to. … She died from cancer, starvation, dehydration and sedation. It was not a pretty sight.”

That’s the kind of story Wolk said she wants to change.

“We want to bring relief to those Californians without the legal option to end their suffering,” Wolk said. “There must be a better way. And there is.”

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