Capitol Alert

Assisted death bill passes Senate Judiciary Committee

Debbie Ziegler, center, the mother of Brittany Maynard, speaks in support of proposed legislation allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients during a news conference at the Capitol on Jan. 21, 2015.
Debbie Ziegler, center, the mother of Brittany Maynard, speaks in support of proposed legislation allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients during a news conference at the Capitol on Jan. 21, 2015. The Associated Press

The controversial bill that would give terminally ill Californians access to lethal drugs passed its latest legislative hurdle Tuesday. On a party-line vote of 4-2, Democrats advanced SB 128 from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Discussion focused on whether the law’s safeguards against abuse were sufficient. Groups representing oncologists and disability advocates argued that physicians, who would be able to prescribe lethal drugs for patients with less than six months to live, might not be able to catch cases of coercion. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, challenged opponents to come up with additional measures that would protect both the choice of those who want to die and “others who may not be at that point.”

Several assisted death bills have failed in the Legislature since Oregon voters first legalized the practice in 1994. In the face of strong opposition from doctors and the Catholic Church, none has ever advanced to a floor vote. But sentiment may be shifting.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, told the bill’s authors that they had “done a brilliant job” addressing his concerns about the safety and practicality of allowing assisted death in California. Hertzberg, a former Assembly speaker, recalled that he had once parked similar legislation in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“There are certainly compelling moral arguments to be made on the other side, but I don’t think that’s for the government to decide,” Hertzberg said.

SB 128 is up next in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.

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