Dan Walters

Opinion: Big emotion drives two major bills in California

Alicia Ferguson, of Shingle Springs, holds her 17-month-old daughter Louisa Ferguson, and her parrot Mac, as she rallied on the West Steps of the Capitol against the bill to require vaccinations, Senate Bill 277 on Wednesday April 8, 2015. Ferguson, who said her child was vaccinated, said that she supports the group because she believes in parents having the right to make their own choice.
Alicia Ferguson, of Shingle Springs, holds her 17-month-old daughter Louisa Ferguson, and her parrot Mac, as she rallied on the West Steps of the Capitol against the bill to require vaccinations, Senate Bill 277 on Wednesday April 8, 2015. Ferguson, who said her child was vaccinated, said that she supports the group because she believes in parents having the right to make their own choice. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Californians are fairly apathetic when it comes to politics, as demonstrated by their abysmally low levels of voting.

That said, Californians do get agitated when political issues involve life and death, either real or perceived. And the Legislature is experiencing two issues saturated with raw human emotion – the rights of the terminally ill to end their lives and those of parents to not have children vaccinated.

Hundreds of ordinary Californians packed Capitol hearing rooms this month to emotionally, even tearfully, plead with lawmakers.

Those seeking the legal right for the terminally ill to request lethal drugs have been successful so far. Senate Bill 128 has moved through two Senate committees already and awaits one more committee vote before moving to the Senate floor.

Although medical providers and some religious groups oppose the bill, legislators have clearly been moved by personal stories of suffering and the highly publicized case of a young California cancer victim, Brittany Maynard, who legally terminated her life in Oregon.

Vaccination has been, if anything, even more contentious. Senate Bill 277, responding to an outbreak of measles this year and revelations about rapidly rising numbers of unvaccinated youngsters in California schools, would eliminate the “personal belief” exemption in current law.

Two marathon hearings have been packed with parents, mostly young and affluent, who oppose the bill, believing that vaccinations potentially cause autism and other crippling conditions. Robert Kennedy Jr. even came to Sacramento to champion “anti-vaxxers,” as they’ve been dubbed.

With medical authorities asserting that vaccinations pose no such threat, the bill made it through the Senate Health Committee but stalled in the Senate Education Committee over how unvaccinated kids would be educated.

A vote is scheduled for this week, and the measure’s author, Sacramento Democrat Richard Pan, is trying to write amendments to satisfy the committee’s fence-sitters.

However, bringing SB 277 to the committee without having enough votes lined up appears to have been a tactical error that could doom passage.

It’s problematic whether SB 277 can move through a third committee before a May 1 deadline. Pan’s office did not respond to calls about the bill’s fate.

As emotional as the two issues may be, they also symbolize the evolving relationship of medical care to individual rights in the 21st century.

Do we have a right to end our lives when afflicted by terminal illness? Should we expect doctors, who are trained to prolong human life, to end it?

When do the rights of parents to protect their children from the perceived danger of vaccination collide with the rights of other parents to not have their children exposed to serious illnesses from unvaccinated schoolmates?

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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