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Assisted Suicide Bill in California Heads to Governor for Signature
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If the governor of California signs an assisted suicide bill, the state will become the fifth to legalize the practice.

Summary: If the governor of California signs an assisted suicide bill, the state will become the fifth to legalize the practice.

According to the New York Times, supporters of assisted suicide enjoyed a major victory on Friday as the California state legislature gave final approval to a bill that would permit doctors to assist terminally ill patients with ending their lives. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, mentally competent patients would be allowed to request a prescription that would end their lives if two doctors agreed that the patients had no more than six months to live.


Should Governor Jerry Brown sign the bill, which passed in the State Senate with a vote of 23 to 14, it will become the 5th state to allow doctor-assisted suicide. adds that the bill was approved by the Assembly in a 43 to 34 vote. Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington already allow doctors to prescribe fatal doses of medication to certain patients. Governor Brown has stayed relatively quiet on the subject, and it is not clear whether he will sign the bill. Access to doctor-assisted suicide in the country will roughly triple if the bill is signed.

In February, Canada voted to legalize assisted suicide.

The California bill borrowed a significant amount of language from the Oregon bill. Of course, there are several differences between the two. The California law will expire after a decade, at which point it will have to be reapproved. Doctors will also have to discuss the options in private with the patient, to protect each patient from coercion. Being forced or coerced into ending one’s life is a major concern for opponents of doctor-assisted suicide.

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Those heading the “death with dignity” movement in California said that they hoped the passage of the law would bring about change elsewhere. Mark Leno, a citizen of San Francisco, said, “It allows for intellectual liberty and freedom, freedom of choice.”

Oregon approved the first assisted-suicide law in 1997. Though supporters have tried to assist other states with enacting their own similar laws, they have faced quite a bit of opposition, primarily from religious groups, some medical organizations, and political figures who are torn on the issue. Senator Ted Gaines, a Republican, said, “I’m not going to push the old or the weak out of this world. I think that could be the unintended consequences of this legislation.”

Over half the states, as well as Washington, D.C., have introduced bills to legalize some form of assisted suicide. However, according to the Death With Dignity National Center, none of them have been enacted.

In 2012, assisted suicide was on the rise in Switzerland.

Geroge Eighmey, the vice president of Death With Dignity and a former Oregon state legislator, said, “If it becomes the law in California, that’s going to be very, very significant nationally.”

However, even with the bill’s protections against coercion, not all are comfortable with the proposed legislation. Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, the director of the medical ethics program at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, explained that low-income and underinsured patients may feel pressure from their families to end their lives, especially if the cost of treatment is significant when compared to the cost of a lethal dose of medication.

Dr. Kheriaty referred to the case of Barbara Wagner, a cancer patient who said that her insurance denied coverage for costly treatments but did cover “physician aid in dying.”

Dr. Kheriaty said, “As soon as this is introduced, it immediately becomes the cheapest and most expedient way to deal with complicated end-of-life situations. You’re seeing the push for assisted suicide from generally white, upper-middle-class people, who are east likely to be pressured. You’re not seeing support from the underinsured and economically marginalized. Those people want access to better health care.”

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Eighmey dismissed Dr. Kheriaty’s arguments, saying, “It’s always the loved ones who want the dying person to try one more round of chemo, one more treatment down in Mexico.”

Oregon was the only state that allowed assisted suicide until a Supreme Court ruling tossed out efforts by the Justice Department to block the law. Washington followed with its own law in 2008. Several European countries also allow doctor-assisted suicide. However, on Friday, the British Parliament voted against a law that would have permitted assisted suicide.

Previous efforts to legalize the act in California have failed. Earlier this year, the Roman Catholic Church helped delay a similar law in the Assembly.

However, a major change in attitudes came about with Brittany Maynard’s story. Maynard was from the Bay Area and was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She moved to Oregon with her family last year so that she could end her life under the state’s doctor-assisted suicide laws. Her journey attracted national attention, and her family has lobbied for the California bill since Maynard died last November at just 29 years old.

After a long history of opposing doctor-assisted suicide, the California Medical Association changed its tune earlier this year, adopting a neutral position and emphasizing that the decision was a personal one for doctors and their patients to make.

On Friday, members told dozens of personal stories about watching their loved ones die as they spoke on the the Senate floor.

Read about Vermont’s law here.

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democrat, told the others about her mother’s wishes while she fought leukemia: not to die alone, and to maintain her dignity. Jackson said, “We are talking about giving people a choice. They want to be able to transition out of this life with their dignity.”

Although Governor Brown has stayed quiet about the bill, he has bemoaned the decision to bring the issue forward in a special session, since the legislative process is shortened.

Many supporters have stated they will try to bring the issue to voters through a ballot vote if it is vetoed. According to a Gallup poll from earlier this year, close to 70 percent of Americans are in favor of doctor-assisted suicide, up 10 percentage points from last year.

Source: New York Times

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