Health

California physician-assisted suicide bill stalls amid religious opposition (updated)

State bill 128, that would have allowed terminally ill patients to legally end their lives in California  faced considerable opposition from religious groups.
State bill 128, that would have allowed terminally ill patients to legally end their lives in California faced considerable opposition from religious groups.
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A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to some terminally ill Californians who request it has been pulled from consideration by a key state legislative committee. That makes it unlikely the measure will be considered again this year. 

The authors of SB 128 said Tuesday they would not present the assisted suicide bill to the Assembly Health Committee. This is the second time they have delayed a vote in that committee, apparently because they did not have enough votes for passage.

Under the legislative calendar, the bill would have to pass through the health and judiciary committees by July 17, before lawmakers go on their month-long summer recess. 

The measure's authors, Sens. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), issued a statement saying they will "continue to work with Assembly Members to ensure they are comfortable with the bill."

The authors did not address the question of whether they would try to get the bill passed this legislative session. Since the health committee did not vote on the bill, they could resume their efforts with the panel when the legislature reconvenes in January, rather than having to start all over with the measure, according to Assembly Chief Clerk Dotson Wilson.

The state Senate passed the bill last month.

The measure has faced considerable opposition from religious groups, particularly the Catholic Church. The Los Angeles Catholic archdiocese lobbied Los Angeles-area Democrats who sit on the health committee. 

The head of the main group backing the bill insisted the fight is not over.

"SB 128 is still alive and well, even though we weren’t ready for it to be heard before the Assembly Health Committee," Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus said in a statement.

Regarding the assemblymembers who are resisting the bill, Broaddus told KPCC, "We still think we can get them there."

She pointed to a June poll commissioned by Compassion & Choices which found that 69 percent of likely California voters  said they would vote for a ballot initiative legalizing doctor-assisted suicide. 

Supporters had hoped that changing public opinion and the California Medical Association's decision to drop its opposition would help the bill pass.

SB 128's opponents expressed satisfaction with Tuesday's turn of events. 

"I think it’s a good day for those most vulnerable in California, particularly from the disability rights community who have been organized for  years fighting against assisted suicide proposals," said Tim Rosales, spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide. 

Support begins to erode when people delve deeper into the legislation and become better informed, maintained Rosales.

"It's not about taking someone off of life support," he said. "It's not about someone having the right to refuse extraordinary means. Assisted suicide is simply about a doctor prescribing a lethal overdose of pills for the purpose of someone ending their life."

Compassion & Choices' Broaddus said her organization may end up pursuing a ballot initiative if the bill ultimately fails. "We have always known it is going to be a challenge in California and we have known that we may need to go to the ballot," she said. While that option "is still on the table," Broaddus said her group is not yet ready to pursue it. 

"We think the legislature should do its job and pass the bill," she said. 

This story has been updated.