The new bill, SB128, would allow California doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients like Olvera’s daughter. It would require two doctors to confirm that the patient is mentally competent and unlikely to live more than six months. Patients would have to be able to take the drugs themselves without assistance.
But opponents fear that some older patients could be coerced into taking the drugs.
“Not all families are happy families, and there’s an epidemic of elder and disability abuse,” said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund.
She says the bill might create a problem with insurance companies, too.
“Direct coercion isn’t even necessary. If insurers deny or even merely delay expensive life-sustaining treatment, patients will, in essence, be steered towards doctor-prescribed suicide,” she said.
If the bill passes, California would become one of six states that allow “aid in dying,” including Montana, Vermont, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon. Data from those last two states show few people actually ask for or take the drugs. In Oregon in 2013, doctors prescribed the drugs to 122 people; 71 actually took them.
California lawmakers have attempted -- and failed -- several times to pass similar laws over the last two decades. But they believe now is the time to try again, particularly as momentum crests from the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year old woman terminally ill with brain cancer who moved to Oregon last year to take advantage of the law there. Public opinion polls show increasing support for a law in California.
“Maynard, said, ‘I don’t have a suicidal bone in my body. I want to live. But I have terminal cancer that will kill me. Within that death sentence, I choose to have options and to set the terms and conditions of my inevitable death,’ ” Sen. Monning said. “In respect of her courage, we think the End of Life Option Act is appropriate.”