All over California, terminally ill patients are waiting. Their families are waiting, too, and they’ve been waiting a while. Years, in fact. Waiting for lawmakers to pass a physician-assisted dying bill so they can end their suffering with a legally prescribed dose of lethal drugs.
And, yet, thanks to the apparent uneasiness of a few members of the Assembly Health Committee, these poor Californians might have to wait a little longer.
It’s a turn for the worse that shouldn’t be happening.
Senate Bill 128 cleared its house of origin by a 23-14 vote in early June, buoyed by the California Medical Association’s decision to drop its long-standing opposition to physician-assisted death. A provision that would let doctors with moral objections opt out of the law swayed the powerful trade group.
That decision was huge. A real reason for optimism after years of disappointment.
After all, it was the medical association, along with the Catholic Church and disability rights advocates, that helped scuttle previous aid-in-dying bills. The last major attempt was in 2007, and that bill didn’t make it to the Assembly floor for a vote. Not much has happened since, even though, depending on the study, between 60 and 70 percent of Americans support letting terminally ill, mentally competent adults receive aid-in-dying medication.
Unfortunately, this time, SB 128 is stuck in the Assembly Health Committee, which, like all committees in the Legislature, is controlled by Democrats.
Its author, Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, was forced to delay a hearing in the Assembly Health Committee last week in order to drum up enough votes to pass it. About a half-dozen lawmakers are wavering for a combination of reasons. Wolk called the turn of events disappointing but said it was a “momentary pause.”
We hope it is.
Even if the bill passes committee, it still must clear the Assembly Judiciary Committee. We urge Speaker Toni Atkins to intervene, if necessary, to make certain that the bill reaches the Assembly floor for a vote.
Legislators who harbor objections to Senate Bill 128 should understand that by choosing to vote “no” they are depriving Californians of the choice to do what’s right for themselves.
There are safeguards. Patients would have to clear several hurdles, including proving to a physician that they are mentally competent to make such a decision and that they indeed have no more than six months to live.
This has nothing to do with death panels, or health care rationing. People would have the choice of ending their lives on their own terms, rather than suffering the pain and incapacity that can accompany the inevitable end of life.
Too many people have had to evade the law, or have gotten arrested. People with limited time shouldn’t have to uproot and travel to Oregon to take advantage of aid-in-dying laws, as California resident Brittany Maynard did. Allow people at the ends of their lives the legal right to leave this Earth with dignity.