Senator Feinstein endorses California End of Life Option Act

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Senator Wolk is the principal sponsor of the right to die legislation
Senator Wolk is the principal sponsor of the right to die legislation

70 current and former California elected officials join growing list of supporters

Authors of California’s  End of Life Option Act, a bill to authorize the medical practice of aid-in-dying in California, today announced the support of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.

“The right to die with dignity is an option that should be available for every chronically suffering terminally ill consenting adult in California. I share your concern that terminally ill California residents currently do not have the option to obtain end-of-life medication if their suffering becomes unbearable,” wrote Feinstein in a letter to State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), a joint author of the legislation, along with Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel), and Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton).

“Senator Feinstein’s support for this effort is a big boost for our effort, sending a strong signal that the political momentum has shifted,” said Senator Wolk.  When one of California’s most respected, thoughtful, and longest serving political leaders takes the unusual step of speaking out in strong support of a bill like this you know you are on the right track.”

The authors of the California bill, SB 128, also released a list of 70 current and former legislators who have endorsed the measure, including the 19 current legislators who have signed on as coauthors.

“The time has come for Californians faced with a terminal illness to have access to end of life options that can prevent unnecessary suffering in their final months of life. The endorsements from dozens of respected California leaders, including Senator Feinstein, show that there is growing support for the End of Life Options Act throughout the state.” said Senator Monning.

“I am appreciative of the efforts made by former Assemblymember Patty Berg, author of prior aid- in-dying legislation, who has reached out to so many former legislators to enlist their support,” said Senator Wolk, “We are encouraged by the growing support for this issue in California and across the country, including a recent endorsement from the New York Times.”

The legislation, SB 128, is modeled on legislation in Oregon and other states where aid-in-dying has been proven to be effective and successful.  It will allow a terminally ill competent person to obtain a prescription to self-administer to minimize suffering during the dying process. It includes numerous protections to prevent abuse.  All participation is voluntary.  Oregon’s law has been in effect for 17 years, with no reported cases of abuse.  In 2014, 155 Oregonians utilized the option. A similar act was passed in the state of Washington in 2009 with comparable data.

SB 128 will receive its first hearing in the Senate Health Committee on March 25th.

Bill Summary

SB 128 establishes the End of Life Option Act in California, modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act that was enacted in 1997. This would allow a mentally competent, terminally ill adult in California in the final stages of his or her disease to request medication from a physician to bring about a peaceful death.

Specifically, this bill will allow a terminally ill person the right to obtain a prescription from his or her physician for medication to be self-administered. It requires two physicians to confirm a prognosis of six months or less, a written request and two oral requests to be made a minimum of 15 days apart, and two witnesses to attest to the request. The two physicians must also ensure that the person has the mental competency to make health care decisions for him or herself.

SB 128 includes safeguards for physicians, pharmacists and health care providers that follow the law to ensure they will be immune from civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action when a patient exercises this option. In addition, participation for physicians, pharmacists and health care providers in this law is voluntary with the ability to opt-out. Measures to protect vulnerable patients are also included in the legislation by establishing felony penalties for coercing someone to request the medication or forging a request. The attending physician of the terminally ill patient who wishes to engage in the End of Life Option Act is required to discuss feasible alternatives or additional treatment opportunities, including but not limited to comfort care, hospice care, palliative care and pain control. Finally, the patient can decide not to use the prescription or can rescind his or her request for the drug at any time.

Background

This medical practice, known as aid in dying, is already recognized in other states such as Oregon, Washington and Vermont and in Montana under the State Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Baxter case. The experiences in these states demonstrate that any objections or legitimate concerns initially raised have been shown to be unfounded. The data collected in Oregon shows this end of life option is sparingly used with fewer than 1 in 500 deaths (60 or 70 a year out of a total of over 30,000 deaths). Comparable numbers are seen in the state of Washington.

A recent study in Oregon also showed that a sizable percentage of individuals who obtained the prescription never ingested the medication in the end.

Recent polls indicate that public opinion has changed significantly in the last few years. Two-thirds of Californians, including majorities from every demographic subgroup, support the freedom of terminally ill individuals to exercise this end-of-life option. Recently, Medscape conducted a survey and found that most American physicians now also support this measure for patients with an incurable and terminal disease.

As of 3/17/2015 Current members of the legislature that have signed on as coauthors:

Senators Jackson, Leno, Block, Hall, Hancock, Hernandez, Hill, McGuire, Wieckowski and Assemblymembers Chu, Cooper, Frazier, Garcia, Quirk, Rendon and Stone

As of 3/17/2015 Honorary Coauthors:

Honorary Chair: Patty Berg*

Michael Allen
Former Assemblymember
Dede Alpert
Former Senator, Assemblymember
Dion Aroner
Former Assemblymember
Karen Bass
U.S. House of Representatives
Former Assembly Speaker
Valerie Brown
Former Assemblymember
John Burton
Chair, CA Democratic Party; Former U.S. House of Rep., Senate Pres. pro Tem, Assemblymember
Joe Canciamilla
Contra Costa County Chief Clerk
Former Assemblymember
Wesley Chesbro
Former State Senator, Assemblymember
Judy Chu
U.S. House of Representatives; Former Board of Equalization Chair, Former Assemblymember
Mark DeSaulnier
U.S. House of Representatives
Former State Senator, Assemblymember
Delaine Eastin
Former Supt. of Public Instruction, Assemblymember
Mike Eng
Los Angeles Community College Board
Former Assemblymember
Noreen Evans
Former State Senator, Assemblymember
Mike Feuer
Los Angeles City Attorney
Former Assemblymember
Liz Figueroa
Former State Senator, Assemblymember
Dario Frommer
Former Assembly Majority Leader
Jackie Goldberg
Former Assemblymember
Dan Hauser
Former Assemblymember
Tom Hayden
Former Senator, Assemblymember
Jared Huffman
U.S. House of Representatives
Former Assemblymember
Patrick Johnston
Former State Senator, Assemblymember
Dave Jones
State Insurance Commissioner
Former Assemblymember
Betty Karnette
Former State Senator, Assemblymember
Fred Keeley
Former Assembly Speaker pro Tem
Johan Klehs
Former Board of Equalization Member, Assemblymember
Christine Kehoe
Former State Senator, Assembly Speaker pro Tem
Sheila Kuehl
L.A. County Board of Supervisors
Former State Senator, Assembly Speaker pro Tem
Lloyd Levine
Former Assemblymember
Sally Lieber
Former Speaker pro Tem
Bill Lockyer
Former State Treasurer, Attorney General,
Senate pro Tem, Assemblymember
John Longville
San Bernardino Community College Board
Former Assemblymember
Alan Lowenthal
U.S. House of Representatives
Former Assemblymember
Fiona Ma
Board of Equalization Member
Former Assembly Speaker pro Tem
Barbara Matthews
Former Assemblywoman
Kerry Mazzoni
Former Assemblymember
Carole Migden
Former Senator, Assemblymember
Gwen Moore
Former Assemblymember
Gene Mullin
Former Assemblymember
Fabian Nunez
Former Assembly Speaker
Don Perata
Former Senate President pro Tem, Assemblymember
Lori Saldana
Former Assemblymember Speaker pro Tem
Jackie Speier
U.S. House of Representatives
Former State Senator, Assemblymember
Darrell Steinberg
Former Senate President pro Tem, Assemblymember
Sally Tanner
Former Asssemblymember
Art Torres
Former Chair, CA Democratic Party,
State Senator, Assemblymember
Helen Thomson
Former Assemblymember
Tom Umberg
Former Assemblymember
Herb Wesson
Los Angeles City Council Member
Former Assembly Speaker
Mariko Yamada
Former Assemblymember
Betty Yee
State Controller
Former Board of Equalization Member
*Former Assemblymember and joint author with Assemblymember Lloyd Levine of AB 651 (2006) and AB 374 (2007)

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2 thoughts on “Senator Feinstein endorses California End of Life Option Act”

  1. Eric Gelber

     
    Let me start by saying that, personally, I support the concept of aid-in-dying (or assisted suicide). I would point out, however, that despite growing national support, the concept is still highly controversial. The concerns expressed—particularly in the disability rights community—should not be lightly dismissed. (And the disability community, itself, is divided on the issue.)  Let’s be careful about accepting at face value broad conclusions that legislation in other states has “been proven to be effective and successful” or that “there have been no reported cases of abuse.” Defining success and identifying abuse is not a simple matter. California also is not Oregon. In California—with about 233,000 deaths per year compared to 30,000 in Oregon—the opportunities for abuse and complexity of oversight are on a different scale. For a detailed discussion from the perspective of disability rights advocates opposed to legalization of assisted suicide see, e.g.: http://dredf.org/assisted_suicide/97-DREDF-website-version.html.
     

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