Politics

Assisted suicide legislation approved by California lawmakers

Lawmakers in the state Assembly voted 43-34 after a lengthy and emotional debate during which many lawmakers invoked their religious faith in arguing for and against the legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives.
Lawmakers in the state Assembly voted 43-34 after a lengthy and emotional debate during which many lawmakers invoked their religious faith in arguing for and against the legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives.
Rosie O'Beirne/Flickr

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The California Assembly approved legislation Wednesday that would allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives, sending the proposal to the state Senate, which is expected to endorse it.

Lawmakers in the state Assembly voted 43-34 after a lengthy and emotional debate during which many lawmakers invoked their religious faith in arguing for and against the legislation. Assembly members were seen as the stumbling block to advancing the bill.  

"I as a Christian do not pretend to know what God has in mind for all of us, why there is pain or suffering in this world. But I do know he is a merciful God. And we have the ability to allow others to have a choice," said Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Pleasanton) who supported the measure. "I believe it is cruel — nothing short of cruel — to deny them that choice in their final hours and final days."

It was the second effort by lawmakers this year to allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication following the highly publicized case of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, a California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life.

An earlier Senate version of the measure, SB128, passed through the full Senate in June but then in July stalled in the Assembly Health Committee amid religious opposition and hesitant Democrats. Among them was Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), who changed his position and said on Wednesday that amendments in the assembly version caused him to now support the bill. 

The renewed push for the measure comes after at least two dozen states have introduced aid-in-dying legislation this year, though none of the bills has passed.

Doctors are permitted to prescribe life-ending drugs in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana.

The "right-to-die" movement has been galvanized by the high-profile case of Maynard, who argued in widely viewed online videos that she should have been able to access life-ending drugs in her home state.

It's not clear where Gov. Jerry Brown, a lifelong Catholic, stands on the issue.

Religious groups and advocates for people with disabilities opposed the nearly identical SB128,   introduced earlier this year, saying it goes against the will of God and put terminally ill patients at risk for coerced death. The measure passed the state Senate but stalled in the Assembly.

As KPCC previously reported, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) introduced the latest bill last month during a special legislative session on health spending. In that session, a smaller health committee comprised of different members voted for its passage. 

Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) was among those who criticized the bill's authors for introducing it during the extraordinary session convened by Brown. Patterson told KPCC the maneuver forced consideration of the controversial issue in the "wrong place, wrong time and with a stacked deck."

Brown has declined to take a position on assisted suicide legislation, although his spokeswoman said earlier this year that he did not believe a special session on health care was the appropriate venue in which to consider it.

Advocates also have turned to the courts and the assisted suicide advocacy group Compassion and Choices has said it would attempt to qualify a 2016 ballot measure if proponents lose in the Legislature.

A previous version of this story had an incorrect count for the Assembly votes. KPCC regrets the error.