Capitol Alert

California aid-in-dying measure passes first committee

Dan Diaz, the widower of Brittany Maynard, watches a posthumous video recorded less than three weeks before her assisted suicide in Oregon.
Dan Diaz, the widower of Brittany Maynard, watches a posthumous video recorded less than three weeks before her assisted suicide in Oregon. ccadelago@sacbee.com

A California aid-in-dying bill cleared its first committee Wednesday following a lengthy debate that highlighted stark disagreements between the bill’s supporters and opponents among medical, religious and disability-rights groups.

The Senate Health Committee voted 6-2, with one abstention, to pass Senate Bill 128. The vote came hours after proponents of the bill released a posthumous video recorded less than three weeks before Brittany Maynard’s assisted suicide in Oregon.

“I moved to Oregon with my family from California because it is one of only five states that do authorize the patient a right to do a choice with death with dignity,” Maynard, 29, said in the video after being diagnosed with a terminal form of aggressive brain cancer.

“The decision about how I end my dying process should be up to me and my family under a doctor’s care,” she added. “How dare the government make decisions or limit options for terminally ill people like me.”

SB 128, which would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally ill people, drew strong opposition at Wednesday’s hearing. “Where assisted suicide is legal, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent through mistakes and abuse,” said Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, told committee members.

The Senate committee’s consideration of the bill began after lunch and proponents and critics packed the hearing room. All of the yes votes for the measure came from the panel’s Democrats, and its Republican members voted no. State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, did not vote.

Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, called the vote “sad and disappointing.” “The ‘safeguards’ in SB 128 are illusory precisely because they are arbitrarily set, with no sound medical rationale,” Dolejsi said in a statement.

Two previous aid-in-dying measures failed in the Legislature. But lawmakers in more than a dozen other states are now considering similar efforts, said Sens. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Lois Wolk, D-Davis, authors of the California measure.

“There has been a sea change in public opinion and we think a lot of that has been catalyzed by Brittany being willing to be public and courageous with her story,” Monning said before Wednesday’s hearing. He added that lawmakers have been discussing the proposal with aides to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Wolk said that if given the chance Brown, who attended a Jesuit seminary, would “struggle with this issue, given his background.” But she noted he was the first governor to sign living will legislation.

Said Monning: “We’re going to take it a step at a time.”

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago. Jim Miller and Alexei Koseff of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

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