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Right-to-Die Bill Passes Senate Floor

In a Senate floor vote on Thursday, legislators passed a bill establishing physician-assisted suicide in California. But the bill did not go quietly through the Senate.

SB 128 is about how we die in California,” said bill author state Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis), who presented the bill on the Senate floor. “That’s not an easy conversation to have.”

Republican legislators were not at a loss for words, though.

“As a society we fight for life,” said state Sen. Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado Hills).

“Our cultural attitude would suffer a fundamental shift with this bill, for the worse, if we stop fighting for life in these situations. Will we shrug our shoulders and throw in the towel, as this bill effectively does, for the ill?,” Gaines asked. “Doctors should kill disease, they should kill the pain, but they should not kill their patients.”

State Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) said the state imposes strict safety guidelines for having a gun in the house. “I can’t find that same stringent requirement to keep these drugs away from our children,” Vidak said.

“And the second question is theft of the prescription. Our homes are broken into, they go for jewelry, for cash — and they go straight to the medicine cabinets,” Vidak said. “I can’t find the safety measure for theft of this.”

“This is obviously a very emotional subject,” said state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), who rose in support of the bill. “God forbid if I were stricken with a deadly disease … and I was in such bad pain, I would want to have the option,” Hernandez said. “I would not want my family to see me suffer anymore. For me, it’s a matter of personal choice.”

End-of-life legislation first passed in Oregon 17 years ago, and has since been passed by four other states. Those 17 years have been a strong litmus test for the effectiveness of the law, Wolk said.

“[Seventeen years ago in Oregon] they said there would be neglect or coercion,” Wolk said. “All of that has proven to be unfounded over 17 years. … This law has worked so well because of the safeguards built into these laws.”

State Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) said everyone involved in an end-of-life decision — physicians, hospitals and the patient — must participate voluntarily.

“If this becomes law, only those who voluntarily elect to participate in its provisions will play any role,” Allen said. “I’m not qualified to say exactly what is a life well-lived or a death well-met, I don’t think it’s the role of government to say so, either.”

The bill passed on a 23-14 vote and now heads to the Assembly.