Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) activity in California
Part 1 of two parts
2015-JAN to DEC: Bill ABx2-15 "California
Choices Act" becomes law:
Introduction of the Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) bill to the California Senate:
A PAS bill, SB-128, was introduced to the California Senate during January by State Senators Bill Monning (D) and Lois Wolk (D). It was narrowly passed in June. However, its chances of also being passed by the Assembly appeared bleak at the time, and so it did not progress.
Sharon Bernstein, writing for Reuters, said the bill:
"... was introduced amid nationwide publicity over the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old brain cancer patient who moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of that state's assisted suicide law." 1
She established residency in Oregon, obtained a prescription for pills, and died at a time of her own choosing.
2015-SEP-09: A PAS bill is passed by the California Assembly:
A new bill which was identical to the earlier Senate bill SB-128 was introduced under a different name and bill number. ... this this time in the Assembly.
The bill specified that for a person to qualify for PAS, they must be dying of a terminal illness. Also, their estimated life expectancy must be 6 months or less. They must make two verbal requests from a physician, a minimum of 15 days apart, for drugs to end their life . They would also have to submit a written request, witnessed by two adults, who attest that the individual is of sound mind and not under duress to end their life.
The bill is called AB X2-15: the End of Life Option Act. Assembly member Susan Eggman (D), a former hospice worker, introduced the bill. She said:
"This issue is of immense importance to all Californians. I was confident that the full Assembly, reflective of and responsive to the people it represents, would do the right thing and move us closer to making it possible for terminally ill Californians to decide for themselves how to manage their last days." 2
It was debated for two hours, and passed by a vote of 43 to 34 (or 44 to 35; sources differ on the exact numbers). This was the first PAS bill to pass the Assembly in almost 25 years of struggling.
Before it could be sent to Governor Brown's (D) desk for his signature, it had to be sent by the Senate and passed again by majority vote.
Dan Diaz, the husband of the late Brittany Maynard, had lobbied for the bill. 1 He said:
"There is a sense of pride in the Legislature. Today it reaffirmed the reason Brittany spoke.... The Legislature will no longer abandon the terminally ill where hospice and palliative care are no longer an option. They can have a gentle passing. ..." 1
2015-SEP-11: California Senate also passes the "End of Life Option Act:
During a special legislative session, the Senate debated the Assembly bill AB X2-15 with passionate speeches by Senators. Some were strongly opposed to the bill. Others were strongly supportive. The bill was passed by a vote of 23 to 14.
State Senators Bill Monning (D), one of the bill's two original authors, eloquently referring to anniversary the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon 14 years earlier, said:
There’s no need to suffer... Today, on September 11, when we mark the horror of violence, ... we move into that space of violence with a movement that is propelled by compassion." 3
The Pew Research Center has regularly conducted national public opinion polls on PAS since the mid 1990's.
Between 2013 and 2015:
- When asked whether PAS should be legal, support by American adults increased rapidly on successive polls from 51% in 2013 to 68% by 2015. Opposition declined from 45% to 28% over the same interval. Among young adults, support reached 81% by 2015.
- When asked whether PAS is morally acceptable, the percentage of adults who said it was moral increased from 45% to 56%, while those who said it was immoral dropped from 49% to 37%. Among adults with different religious views, PAS was considered moral in cases where an individual is in "great pain with no hope [of] improvement," by 42% of white evangelicals and 85% of NOTAs (those NOT Affiliated with any religious group).
With the gradual secularization of the U.S., increasing public support PAS in the future seems certain. As for so many other moral and ethical questions, Democrats tend to take a more liberal position, while Republicans are more conservative. 4
2015-OCT-05: Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed the PAS bill into law:
This was the seventh attempt by supporters of PAS to obtain an enabling law. Six previous attempts in either the Legislature or by public referendums had all failed.
On Monday, OCT-05, Governor Brown signed the "End of Life Option Act" into law. It allows:
"... physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who want to hasten their deaths." 5
California thus became fifth state in the United States that have legalized PAS. Previous states were: Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington State.
The Act was modeled after the first U.S. PAS bill to be signed into law. That was during 2007 in Oregon.
Governor Brown was once a Jesuit seminary student. He allegedly struggled over whether he should sign the bill. He issued a letter to the members of the California State Assembly. It began:
"AB X2-15 is not an ordinary bill because it deals with life and death. The crux of the matter is whether the State of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life, no matter how great his pain or suffering. 6 (Formal bill ID was corrected.)
This is a difficult sentence to interpret. A person committing suicide in California does not appear to be committing a criminal act as Governor Brown seems to imply. An Internet search turned up a question asked by a visitor to Avvo.com during 2014. 7 The individual had asked whether it is illegal for a adult to attempt to commit suicide in California. The site visitor was planning to end their own life and was concerned that the attempt may not be successful. She/he wondered whether they might be subsequently arrested and charged with a crime. A group of lawyers responded, all recommending that the person obtain medical help for their suicidal ideation. They agreed that attempting to commit suicide was not illegal in the state, but that helping a person commit suicide was against the law. However, although a suicidal person cannot be arrested for a crime, they might be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility for an assessment.
If the lawyers responding to the question on the Avvo web site are correct, it does not appear to be illegal for "a dying person to end his life" as Governor Brown stated. However, before the PAS bill became effective, it would be still be illegal for a physician to assist another person to commit suicide. Even after the law comes in to effect, it remains illegal for non-physicians to help a person commit suicide.
Perhaps Governor Brown intended to write something like "... continue to make it a crime for a dying person to [obtain assistance to] end his life..."
Governor Brown's letter to the Legislature, continued:
"I have carefully read the thoughtful opposition materials presented by a number of doctors, religious leaders and those who champion disability rights. I have considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one's life is sinful.
I have also read the letters of those who support the bill, including heartfelt pleas from Brittany Maynard's family and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In addition, I have discussed this matter with a Catholic Bishop, two of my own doctors and former classmates and friends who take varied, contradictory, and nuanced positions.
In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death.
I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others." 1
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Sharon Bernstein, "California governor signs bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide," Reuters, 2015-OCT-07, at: http://www.reuters.com/
- Patrick McGreevy & Phil Willon, "California Assembly approves right-to-die legislation," Los Angeles Times, 2015-SEP-09, at: http://www.latimes.com/
, "State lawmakers pass End-of-Life Option Act," Monterey County Weekly, 2015-SEP-11, at:
- Michael Lipka, "California legalizes assisted suicide amid growing support for such laws," Pew Research Center, 2015-OCT-05, at: http://www.pewresearch.org/
- "California Governor Signs Physician-Assisted-Suicide Bill Into Law," National Public Radio, 2015-OCT-05, at: http://www.npr.org/
- Gov. E.G. Brown, Jr., untitled letter, 2015-OCT-05, at: https://www.gov.ca.gov/
- "Consequences of a failed suicide attempt in CA?," Avvo, 2014-JAN-22, at: http://www.avvo.com/
Copyright © 2007 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on
First posted: 2007-JUN-02
Last updated 2016-FEB-25
Author: Bruce A Robinson