Senator Lois Wolk, on Tuesday, joined a coalition of legislators seeking to reintroduce legislation regarding the End of Life Option Act in the Assembly Extraordinary Session. Modeled after the original legislation known as Senate Bill (SB) 128, this bill AB X2-15, authored by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes-Eggman, Assemblyman Luis Alejo and Assemblyman Mark Stone, will continue the effort to pass an aid-in-dying reform this year, citing the urgency of the issue and its overwhelming support among Californians.
“We owe this to all Californians who are suffering from terminal illnesses,” Senator Wolk said. “We owe it to their families. It is our responsibility as a legislative body to act.”
Back in July, a proposal to allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients was sidelined as the bill lacked the support to get out of the Assembly Health Committee.
At the time, Assemblymember Susan Eggman, Senator Wolk and Senator Bill Monning issued a statement, “We have chosen not to present SB 128, the End of Life Option Act, today in the Assembly Health Committee.”
Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who chairs the Health Committee, supported the measure stating, “I believe that suffering patients at the end of their life should be able to choose a painless, dignified, and peaceful death.”
However, other Democrats were opposed to the bill. Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez said of his experience working as an emergency medical technician on an ambulance, “I was there to help protect and preserve life and give folks a second chance. It’s just something I couldn’t come to grips with in this bill.”
Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez grew up without health insurance and watched as his father died of pancreatic cancer. He said that he believed his father may have lived longer with earlier detection. “I’m not comfortable voting for the bill as currently drafted,” Mr. Gomez said
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez noted that, while her mother died from a terminal illness, she lived longer than her doctors said she would. She added, “I’m uncomfortable with the way suicide could be viewed across society, not just [for] the terminally ill.”
However, there were also some important victories for the ultimately doomed SB 128. In May, the California Medical Association dropped its opposition to the bill, reversing a long-standing policy opposing doctors’ assisting in the death of a patient.
In doing so, they become the first state medical association in the nation to change its position on the long-debated issue of physician aid in dying.
“As physicians, we want to provide the best care possible for our patients. However, despite the remarkable medical breakthroughs we’ve made and the world-class hospice or palliative care we can provide, it isn’t always enough,” said Luther F. Cobb, M.D., CMA president.
He added, “The decision to participate in the End of Life Option Act is a very personal one between a doctor and their patient, which is why CMA has removed policy that outright objects to physicians aiding terminally ill patients in end of life options. We believe it is up to the individual physician and their patient to decide voluntarily whether the End of Life Option Act is something in which they want to engage. Protecting that physician-patient relationship is essential.”
Now the authors have formulated a new bill.
The bill’s introduction follows two recent Superior Court rulings that have underlined that it is the role of the State Legislature to take action on this issue. In his dismissal in late July of a challenge to the state’s ban on aid-in-dying filed by three terminally-ill Californians, including Christy O’Donnell, who has been an advocate of the End of Life Option Act, a Superior Court judge said that it is the responsibility of the legislature, not the courts, to change the law.
“Californians cannot wait any longer,” Sen. Monning said. “Almost seven out of 10 state residents agree that people should have the option to reduce suffering by taking aid-in-dying medication, and it is a disservice to these individuals and their families not to take action now.”
The new legislation, Assembly Bill (AB) X2-15 is authored by Assemblymember Talamantes-Eggman and coauthored by the authors of SB 128, Senator Wolk and Senator Monning. AB X2-15 is based on the careful and thoughtful language that was being worked on by all three Senators on this issue. If passed, it will allow mentally-competent, terminally-ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for aid-in-dying drugs to painlessly and peacefully shorten their dying process.
The nonprofit organization, Compassion and Choices, has already declared that they will fund a statewide initiative campaign to enact the provisions through a public vote.
“We will not wait for a ballot measure,” Assemblymember Eggman said. “There are people right now who are facing a terminal diagnosis, watching this fight, praying for our success and hoping to be able to take control of their lives through these reforms. They don’t have another year to wait; they are counting on this bill, this year.”
“Every day, terminally ill Californians are suffering needlessly,” said Senator Wolk. Californians are asking for this option and have waited long enough. They must be allowed to die with dignity and compassion. ”
—David M. Greenwald reporting