On Wednesday, the California Assembly took a major step in approving Assembly Bill X2-15, the End of Life Option Act, which will now move on to the Senate for a final vote. The bill was passed by the Assembly on a bipartisan but closely divided vote of 43-34.
In August, State Senator Lois Wolk joined a coalition of legislators seeking to reintroduce legislation regarding the End of Life Option Act. Modeled after the original legislation known as Senate Bill (SB) 128, this bill, AB X2-15, is authored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman, Assemblymember Luis Alejo and Assemblymember Mark Stone, and provides mentally competent, terminally ill adults the option of requesting a doctor’s prescription for aid-in-dying drugs to painlessly and peacefully shorten their dying process.
“The Assembly’s vote today reflects Californians’ overwhelming support for terminally ill individuals’ right to decide to die peacefully and without pain,” said Wolk. “We all hope for a comfortable death, to die painlessly surrounded by family and friends. But that’s not always the reality. There are terminally ill Californians who at this moment are suffering as they battle the final stages of their disease. Today we are one step closer to giving these Californians the ability to decide what is right for them with their doctor, their family and other loved ones.”
Polling performed by the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) at UC Berkeley released last week showed that strong majorities in both major political parties and among independent voters back the idea.
The online survey polled 1,097 Californians from August 11-26. People were asked about pending legislation to allow terminally ill people to voluntarily end their own lives by taking drugs prescribed by a physician.
The poll found that 76 percent overall supported the idea, including 82 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents and 67 percent of Republicans.
“Although many political issues reflect strong partisan differences, physician-assisted suicide clearly draws strong support from Californians across the political spectrum,” said IGS director Jack Citrin.
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.”
The bill, AB X2-15, as indicated, is nearly identical to SB128, authored by State Senators Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and Lois Wolk (D-Davis), which stalled in an Assembly committee in July.
“This issue is of immense importance to all Californians, and I was confident that the full Assembly, reflective of and responsive to the people it represents, would do the right thing and move us closer to making it possible for terminally-ill Californians to decide for themselves how to manage their last days,” Assemblymember Eggman said.
“This is a historic step forward for Californians with terminal illnesses who have been looking to the Legislature for the option to determine the quality of their final days of life based on their own personal beliefs,” Senator Monning said. “I want to thank the Assembly for its support of providing an option for terminally ill individuals who are faced with difficult end of life decisions.”
AB X2-15 now heads for the Senate, where it will be heard in committees before a full vote of the Senate.
—David M. Greenwald reporting