Capitol Alert

Assisted-death bill passes first Assembly committee

Sacramento Bishop: Aid-in-dying bill marginalizes the poor

Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto said reintroducing aid-in-dying legislation during the special health session distracts from the needs of the weak and vulnerable. (Video by Alexei Koseff)
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Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto said reintroducing aid-in-dying legislation during the special health session distracts from the needs of the weak and vulnerable. (Video by Alexei Koseff)

A contentious proposal that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients cleared its first hurdle on Tuesday, advancing from a special Assembly health committee by a bipartisan vote of 10-2.

A previous version of the legislation passed the Senate in June, but it stalled in the Assembly without ever receiving a hearing when supporters could not muster enough votes. It was revived last month during the special session on health care as Assembly Bill X2-15, a controversial move that was criticized by Gov. Jerry Brown for pulling focus from the session’s purpose of funding Medi-Cal.

Facing a reconfigured panel of lawmakers, ABX2-15 was received much more sympathetically. Assembly members Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, and Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, became the first Republicans to affirm their support for the assisted death effort this session.

“I’m very pleased for the Californians who have a terminal diagnosis,” the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, said following the vote. “This is not a partisan issue. It’s a human issue.”

Changes to the measure are still to come. Baker raised concerns at the hearing about patients being coerced or fed the drugs without their knowledge, and she proposed an amendment that would require someone to reaffirm their consent within 48 hours before taking the medication. Eggman said that language would be added before the bill’s next hearing in the special Assembly finance committee.

Another amendment from the committee, which would have made physicians liable for “gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct,” was rejected, however. It was opposed by the California Medical Association, which said it would remove its neutrality on the measure if the modification was made.

Eggman said she is still in discussions with the CMA over how to address doctor malfeasance in the bill.

“This is new territory for them, so we understand their hesitation in putting their doctors at risk,” she said.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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