A bill that would allow doctors in California to prescribe lethal medication to certain terminally ill patients who request it cleared a major legislative hurdle Thursday, as the state Senate approved the measure 23 to 14.
SB 128, authored by Sens. Lois Wok (D-Davis) and Bill Monning (D-Carmel), would allow mentally competent Californians with fewer than six months to live to ask their doctor to provide them with a lethal drug.
The legislation was introduced shortly after California resident Brittany Maynard ended her life last fall via physician-assisted suicide in Oregon. That state is one of five that allow the practice. Maynard's quest for control over the end of her life was documented on social media and galvanized the movement nationwide.
The bill's opponents warn that it does not have sufficient safeguards to prevent abuse of terminally ill people - particularly the elderly and disabled - who might be vulnerable to the influence of unscrupulous relatives. They also argue that palliative and psychiatric care can provide dying patients with the peace they desire at the end of life.
Last month, the California Medical Association dropped its decades-old opposition to physician-assisted suicide and adopted a neutral position on the issue, and on SB 128. The move drew mixed reactions from doctors, including those who work closely with seriously ill and dying patients.
The legislation now moves to the state Assembly. Gov. Jerry Brown has not provided any hints as to whether he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.