California lawmakers have approved a measure that would give terminally ill patients the ability to end their lives, in a 42 to 33 vote that is seen as reflecting a changed perception among Californians towards a citizen’s right to die.
The bill, AB-15, is similar to SB-128, which stalled in July after the assembly’s health committee did not have the support to send it to the full body. Co-sponsors Susan Eggman, Luis Alejo and Mark Stone, all Democrats, brought back the legislation after seeing public perception change over physician-assisted dying.
“There is no dignity in suffering,” Monterey Bay’s Stone said before Wednesday’s vote. “This legislation represents the will of the people of California and we want to make sure the assembly implements this reflection.”
Still, despite the passage, Governor Jerry Brown’s office has been unclear about whether he will sign the bill. His office told the Guardian on Tuesday that it did not have specific comment and would “weigh” the issues before making a final decision.
The measure requires any dying patient who wants to end his or her life through medication prescribed from a doctor to meet three requirements. Each patient must self-administer the medication, the patient must be mentally competent, and two doctors must confirm the prognosis that the patient has six months or less to live.
For Mary Nguyen, a 46-year-old San Francisco resident who lost her mother to a brain tumor three years ago, this is welcome news.
“What I had to go through with my mother was horrible,” she said. “I now understand why people who want to die without suffering want to do that, because they want to be remembered as people who were alive and well, not those who were very sick and unable to really live.”
Despite the measure passing, some opposition remains, especially among churches and disability advocates. A sunset clause was put into the bill that would make the bill inactive after 10 years, on 1 January 2026. It did little to persuade ardent critics.
Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, said the bill is “a recipe for abuse”, noting that an “heir who stands to inherit, or an abusive caregiver, can steer a person – legally witness their request, pick up the lethal dose and even administer it, because no objective witness is required at the death.”
The measure will cost the state’s department of health about $250,000 annually.
Perceptions began to change last month when a San Francisco court ruled that the matter of a patient’s right to end their life was a legislative matter. The story of Brittany Maynard – a 29-year-old UC-Berkeley graduate who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, who moved to Oregon in order to end her life last year – was vital in raising awareness.
“There are certain diseases that produce horrific and needless suffering at the end of life,” Maynard’s widower Dan Diaz said during his testimony on Friday.