NEW YORK – The California Senate on Thursday took a key step toward being the sixth state to pass a controversial “Death with Dignity” bill, two weeks after the California Medical Association dropped its 28-year opposition to such legislation.
California’s “End of Life Option” SB 128 would allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults to request a doctor’s prescription for medication that they could take to painlessly and peacefully shorten their dying process.
The bill now advances to the California Assembly, where the deadline to pass the legislation is Sept. 11.
“This is a historic moment in our state for terminally ill Californians facing unbearable suffering who need and want more end-of-life options,” said Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “We are thrilled with the Senate vote and optimistic that the Assembly will respond to the voices of dying Californians by passing this legislation before its Sept. 11 deadline.”
Opposition came from a leading family values organization in California, which says vulnerable people will be pressured to die prematurely now that Democrats in the state Senate are promoting suicide as official state policy.
“For all practical purposes, SB 128 would open the door to pressure the weak and vulnerable to die prematurely,”
“People who otherwise could have fought to live or at least extended their lives will be ‘helped’ to die early, and that’s shameful,” said Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, which says it promotes moral virtues for the common good. “Is life precious or is life a burden? Should we prevent or promote suicide? Good government values innocent human life and discourages suicide.”
Thomasson said that when a law “permits doctors to kill patients and exempts physicians from any liability, that’s a license to coerce, if not a license to kill.”
“How opposite from the Hippocratic Oath, where physicians pledge, ‘I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan.'”
The Senate vote came seven months after the debate in California reached a climax with the death of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer. She moved to Oregon to be one of the 750 people in the state to take advantage of the medically assisted dying law it passed in 1997.
The other four states that allow patients to take deadly medication prescribed by physicians are New Mexico, Montana, Washington and Vermont.
“Brittany would be very proud to see the monumental shift occurring on the end-of-life option legislation,” said Dan Diaz, her widower.
“Brittany and I respect those who might not pursue this option if they found themselves in a situation similar to hers,” Diaz said. “However, no one should stand in the way of someone who is suffering from a terminal illness from making the decisions that are best for them. An end-of-life option law will not result in more people dying; it will result in fewer people suffering.”
Debbie Ziegler recalled her daughter Brittany’s last days.
“Brittany stood up for what she thought was right, advocating for other terminally ill patients in the last weeks of her life,” Ziegler said. “On this historic day, I profoundly feel my daughter’s presence and pride as the California Senate stands with her, acknowledging that terminally ill Californians have an irrefutable right to decide to die in peace and to seek a doctor’s aid in doing so.”
A YouTube video shows Debbie Ziegler explaining her daughter’s death at a press conference in Sacramento Jan. 21 supporting the introduction of SB 128 to the California legislature.
See Debbie Ziegler speak at the Sacramento press conference
After Brittany Maynard died in Portland, Oregon, on Nov. 2, 2014, Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Vatican’s top bioethics official, termed Maynard’s passing a “reprehensible suicide,” arguing that “dignity is something other than putting an end to one’s own life.”
Carrasco de Paula said assisted suicide was also dangerous because it offered a potential “solution” for a society that sought to abandon the sick and quit paying the costs of their illnesses.
On Nov. 17, 2014, Pope Francis sharply warned euthanasia is “playing with life” and “a sin against God,” denouncing what he called a “false sense of compassion” conveyed by those who regard medically assisted dying as “an act of dignity.”
The pope said it was unlawful to take a life and warned of the dangers posed to the elderly by “hidden euthanasia” in our “culture of waste.”
The End of Life Option Act, co-authored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning and Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk, is the first medical aid-in-dying bill to be approved by the California Senate since the first attempt to pass such legislation in 1992.
“I am gratified that my colleagues in the Senate support a compassionate option for dying patients facing difficult end-of-life decisions in their final days,” said Monning. “I look forward to continued collaboration with my legislative colleagues to ensure passage of the End of Life Option Act in the Assembly.
A live-interviewer telephone survey conducted in July 2014 on behalf of Compassion & Choices among 500 likely November 2014 voters in California indicated nearly two-thirds favored a “Death with Dignity Act” ballot measure that would give a terminally ill person who is mentally competent the right to request and receive a prescription for life-ending medication from a physician.