Assisted suicide bill heads to Brown

by James Poulos | September 16, 2015 5:36 am

assisted suicide[1]Gov. Jerry Brown once again held the fate of a major legislative change in his hands. This time, a bill legalizing assisted suicide has landed on his desk.

After the Assembly greenlit the legislation 44-35, the state Senate cleared it with a 23-14 vote, CNN noted[2], bringing to a climax a controversy begun almost a year after the death of terminal brain cancer sufferer Brittany Maynard moved from California to Oregon in order to legally end her life before succumbing to the disease.

With passions running high on both sides, “Brown has not indicated where he stands on the issue, nor whether he will sign or veto the bill,” KQED reported[3]. “If he does nothing, after 30 days the bill will become law.”

“If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, California would become the fifth state to allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it, after Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana.”

That, according[4] to the New York Times, would triple the number of Americans who could successfully opt to go through with an assisted suicide. As is now routine with controversial California bills, supporters and opponents alike have suggested that Brown’s signature would set off a chain reaction of similar legislation around the country. Already, the Times added, over half the nation’s states “have put forward bills this year to legalize some kind of assisted suicide, according to the Death With Dignity National Center,” although as yet not one bill has made its way into law.

A second try

The bill, known by the special designation ABX2-15, followed in the wake of an effort that fell victim to objections focused on key members of the Assembly Committee on Health. Much like that bill, ABX2-15, introduced by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, “would allow some dying patients to end their lives through lethal doses of medication, as long as medication is self-administered; the patient is mentally competent; and two physicians confirm the prognosis that the patient has six months or less to live,” as California Healthline observed[5].

“Several amendments were added to the bill in the special session, including one that would require patients to reaffirm their consent within 48 hours prior to taking the lethal dose of medication. The bill’s authors also added an amendment that would sunset the law after a decade, making it effective only until Jan. 1, 2026, if passed. However, the state Legislature could vote to extend it.”

Reading the tea leaves

Observers looking for clues on Brown’s disposition noted that he has shown some dissatisfaction with the circumstances under which the legislation was advanced. As the Washington Times noted[6], “he has taken issue with moving the bill during the current special session, which is supposed to be focused on health care financing instead of the regular session.” Outside critics echoed Brown’s concern. “Californians Against Assisted Suicide spokesperson Tim Rosales said the bill was being rushed through the Legislature’s special session,” CNN reported.

Those opposed to the bill have placed their faith in Brown’s personal religious history. “Everybody’s interested because Jerry Brown’s a Catholic,” political analyst Allan Hoffenblum told the Times, referencing Brown’s well-known time in seminary.

Ongoing litigation

The development did not slow activists’ push for immediate change. In San Diego, the Fourth District Court of Appeal heard plaintiff Christy O’Donnell’s claim that the state should allow her to seek assistance in ending her life in advance of her death from lung cancer that has spread throughout her body. Through Attorney General Kamala Harris’s lawyers, the state countered that “long-standing California law in matters related to terminal illness” should not be swept aside, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported[7]. Harris’s office further argued that O’Donnell’s request for accelerated review also be denied, according to the Chronicle, with the usual appellate process sometimes taking more than a year.

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