Capitol Alert

Supporters increase push for California aid-in-dying bill

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

Signaling a big fight ahead over a bill that would allow doctor-assisted suicide in California, a group in favor of the measure has retained three Sacramento lobbying firms.

Compassion and Choices, an advocacy group that pushes for aid-in-dying policies, has hired the Weideman Group; Gonzalez, Quintana & Hunter; and Kathleen Van Osten of the MVM Strategy Group, spokeswoman Charmaine Manansala said.

Compassion and Choices is largely funded by individual donors, Manansala said. Major contributors include the Open Society Institute (founded by George Soros) and the bequest of San Diego psychiatrist Dr. Stanley E. Willis, who died in 2004, according to an annual report from 2013.

The organization is lobbying in favor of Senate Bill 128, which would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally ill people who want to die. The bill by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, was prompted by the high-profile death in November of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian who moved to Oregon last year after being diagnosed with an aggressive cancer her doctors said would kill her within months. Oregon and four other states allow the terminally ill to end their lives through doctor-assisted suicide, while California does not.

Maynard’s husband and mother came to the Capitol last month and made an emotional plea to lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow terminally ill Californians to choose their own fate without leaving home.

The bill has been assigned to two committees in the Senate – Judiciary and Health – and is eligible to have its first hearing after Feb. 20.

Opposition to the bill is coming from a coalition called Californians Against Assisted Suicide, which includes medical groups, religious organizations and advocates for people with disabilities. Spokesman Tim Rosales said the group has not retained its own lobbyists but that some of its member organizations have lobbyists who will be working to defeat the bill, including the Medical Oncology Association of Southern California, the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers and Alliance of Catholic Health Care.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the Catholic church, said the church opposes the bill and will be advocating against it through the broader coalition. The California Medical Association, which represents the state’s doctors, has traditionally opposed efforts to permit patients to end their lives with a doctor’s help but has not yet taken a position on SB 128, said spokeswoman Molly Weedn.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 3:36 p.m. to clarify the Medical Association’s position on the bill.

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.

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