Governor Brown on Monday signed AB X2-15, the End of Life Option Act, into law, ending a long legislative struggle. A release by Senator Lois Wolk’s office, stated, “This decision by the Governor comes almost a year after the death of Brittany Maynard. The 29-year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer brought international attention to this issue when she had to move to Oregon to utilize its death-with-dignity law last year.”
Senator Wolk stated, “This is a historical moment in California. I am amazed by the courage and bravery of every individual who has fought for this right in California and who spoke up in the midst of their own personal pain to share their stories. It was Brittany Maynard that heralded this issue and reinvigorated this movement when she brought national attention to a deeply personal decision she chose to make.”
She continued, “Brittany was part of an effort that was started decades ago by those who recognized that no individual should be forced to experience needless suffering at the end of their life. We can now proudly say that their efforts have led to this compassionate legal option here in California. Now those who need and want this choice will have the legal option to stay in their home, with their family and have peace at the end of their life. Thank you, Governor Brown for hearing their voices.”
Governor Brown, in a letter to the Assembly dated October 5, wrote, “ABx2-15 is not an ordinary bill because it deals with life and death. The crux of the matter is whether the State of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life, no matter how great his pain or suffering.”
“I have carefully read the thoughtful opposition materials presented by a number of doctors, religious leaders and those who champion disability rights. I have considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one’s life is sinful,” the governor wrote. “I have also read the letters of those who support the bill, including heartfelt pleas from Brittany Maynard’s family and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In addition, I have discussed this matter with a Catholic Bishop, two of my own doctors and former classmates and friends who take varied, contradictory and nuanced positions.”
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others,” the governor concluded.
AB X2-15, authored by Susan Talamantes-Eggman (D-Stockton), 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 measure is modeled after Senate Bill 128, authored by Wolk and Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel). Both Wolk and Monning are coauthors of AB X2-15.
All authors worked extensively with all stakeholders throughout this entire process, including the California Medical Association (CMA). The removal of the California Medical Association’s opposition demonstrated their faith that this measure was one that could protect both patients and physicians.
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.
California becomes the fifth state to legalize physician aid-in-dying. Currently, Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana allow this practice.
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 co-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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting