California's Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill Hits Snag

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 (Photo by Andrey Popov)

A California lawmaker who wants to allow terminally ill patients to take life-ending drugs is postponing a vote on the contentious legislation as support lags.

Democratic Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis says she's still trying to secure votes for SB128 to pass the Assembly Health Committee.

The issue gained traction nationally after 29-year-old Brittany Maynard moved from California to Oregon to end her life in November. Wolk's bill allowing doctors to prescribe fatal drugs has already advanced out of the state Senate.

The California Medical Association dropped its opposition to SB128, but the Catholic Church and other religious groups are still fighting it.

The first of four remaining votes on the bill is now scheduled for July 7. Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, has not taken a position.

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The bill requires two doctors to confirm a prognosis that the patient who asks for the lethal drugs has six months or less to live, and has the mental capacity to make medical decisions. Patients would have to be able to take the drugs themselves without assistance.

Opponents say legalizing assisted suicide presents opportunities for disabled or elderly people to be coerced into taking lethal medication by heirs, or indirectly by insurance companies who deny expensive, life-sustaining treatments.

“This bill is simply about protecting doctors and HMOs from liability and tells people with disabilities who face a terminal diagnosis, that may well prove inaccurate, that there is no dignity in our lives,” said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, after the Senate approved the bill on June 4. “Assisted suicide is dangerous.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.