Amid deadlines and intense lobbying, Assembly members will take up several important health-related bills this week.
None is more far-reaching than Senate Bill 128, which would authorize willing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients at the patients’ request.
The bill by Senate Democrats Lois Wolk of Davis and Bill Monning of Carmel includes safeguards and is similar to laws in Oregon and four other states. But it faces a high hurdle Tuesday in the Assembly Health Committee, where Democrats are wavering. It has yet to receive Republican support.
Under SB 128, doctors would need to determine that the terminally ill individual has an incurable and irreversible disease and has less than six months to live.
The ailing person – not a family member, conservator or other surrogate – would need to request the drugs. That request would need to be made twice verbally and once in writing. The person would need to be a California resident, so people from outside wouldn’t come to the state simply to end their lives. Based on Oregon’s experience, the measure would be used about 350 times a year, a legislative staff analysis said.
Opponents offer heartfelt arguments that the bill would be a slippery slope and lead to more ready societal acceptance of suicides, and that poor people who cannot afford proper palliative care would be forced to lethal doses of drugs. Neither principle deals with the core issue raised by Senate Bill 128.
As a state and society, we have a moral obligation to help people see alternatives to suicide. Certainly, health care is a basic right, regardless of one’s income level. SB 128 is intended to provide some minor comfort to a small number of people who affirmatively seek to avoid the pain and indignity that can accompany the last few days of life.
In the Assembly Business and Professions Committee Tuesday, Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, an optometrist, plans to push his SB 622, which would authorize optometrists, who are not physicians, to perform some types of eye surgery.
Physicians rightly oppose this bill. While there are instances in which physicians are too protective of their turf, this is not one. If optometrists want to perform surgery, even what they say are minor procedures, they should undergo significant training.
The Business and Professions Committee also will hear SB 763, which would require manufacturers of mats, car seats and other products intended for use by infants and young children to include labels saying whether they contain flame retardants. Gov. Jerry Brown, among others, have called the chemicals toxic. The bill by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would provide useful consumer information and warrants approval.
On Wednesday, the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee will consider another Leno bill, SB 140, to regulate electronic cigarettes as tobacco products. This bill would be an important step toward combating nicotine addiction and helping keep young people – the main target of e-cigarettes marketing – from taking up the bad habit. We urge approval.