A bill that would allow terminally ill Californians to end their lives with the help of physician-prescribed medication is one step closer to becoming a law.
The “End of Life Option Act,” authored by state Sens. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and Lois Wolk (D-Davis), would allow mentally competent adults in the final stages of life to request the medication from a doctor, and self-administer it to end their lives. The bill passed out of the Senate June 4 on a 23-14 vote and is awaiting referral to two committees in the state Assembly.
“We were very pleased that our majority voted for it,” Monning said.
The bill’s current language requires that individuals be mentally competent adults with a terminal illness and have six months or less to live in order to receive and self-administer the life-ending medication. To get the drugs, they’d be required to make two oral requests to a physician 15 days apart. They’d also need to make one written request with two witnesses before the prescription could be written. Doctors would be required to discussed alternatives such as pain management and hospice care. Once they receive the medication, only the patients are allowed to administer it to themselves.
If the bill passes the Assembly, California will join other states with similar laws, including Washington, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont, and Oregon. According to George Eighmey, vice president of the Death With Dignity Center, one of the national organizations that worked with Monning and Wolk to craft the bill, the proposed legislation is closely modeled after Oregon’s aid-in-dying law.
Eighmey said several lessons were learned from the passage of Oregon’s law in 1994, particularly the importance of educating the public, particularly health-care workers, about the issue.
“We probably waited a little too long in Oregon to educate the public and the stakeholders,” he said. “The people who are going to be implementing this law need to know about it. We have to reach out.”
The state of Oregon played a pivotal role in the story of former California resident Brittany Maynard. Maynard, 29, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, traveled to Portland, became an Oregon resident, and ended her life on Nov. 1, 2014. Maynard’s story was a major catalyst for the California bill’s creation and made the issue personal for those who followed it, according to Eighmey.
“Personal stories are very impactful,” he said. “You can argue theoretically all you want, but it’s different when you see how it affects your family and friends.”
Monning noted that California lawmakers and the general public changed the way they thought about the issue, adding that many have experienced tough end-of-life decisions faced by friends of loved ones.
“There’s a shifting consciousness about patient rights and patient autonomy,” he said.
According to Monning, the bill needs to go before the Assembly health and judiciary committees respectively. He wouldn’t predict if the bill would pass but said it had strong coauthors in the Assembly.
“It’s really going to boil down to a personal choice of the legislators and how they feel about end-of-life issues,” he said.