“When it comes to carrying out the death penalty for convicted murders, the California Legislature finds the lethal drug cocktails ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ which they say is a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Yet lawmakers were more than willing to approve a lethal drug cocktail to allow sick people to kill themselves,” I wrote in 2015 as the California Legislature was considering passing an assisted suicide law.
After months of contentious and difficult wrangling, the California Legislature finally passed the controversial physician assisted suicide bill in 2015, and it was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. But many argued that passage of legalized physician-assisted suicide would provide perverse incentives for insurance carriers to choose the cheapest, quick fix option – particularly in publicly-funded healthcare.
Today, Senator Susan Eggman has added an amendment to her original physician-assisted dying law, ABX2-15 the End of Life Option Act, eliminating the January 1, 2026 sunset date, and allows social workers to conduct mental health exams that make accessing assisted suicide more easy.
“On February 11, 2021, an amendment to California’s law, End of Life, SB380, was introduced by Senator Susan Eggman (D),” DeathWithDignity.org reported. “The amendment, if passed, will allow a waiver of the 15-day wait period if the attending physician determines a patient will die before the end of the wait period. The bill adds or clarifies additional language, including eliminating the January 1, 2026 sunset date.”
Proponents of assisted suicide claimed the new law would allow mentally competent, terminally ill patients receive a prescription from their doctor for drugs to end their life. Modeled after the Oregon law, the California Legislature failed to pass the bill in Assembly Committees during the regular legislative session, and it died. But proponents of assisted suicide legislation did a legislative end run around the appropriate process and resurrected the bill in a special session convened to address transportation and Medi-Cal budget issues.
At the time of the 2015 hearing, then-Senator Jeff Stone, (R-Riverside), a licensed, practicing pharmacist, addressed the issue in debate the way only a medical specialist can. “I formulate cocktails that have narcotics, that have anti-spasmodics, that in some cases, are made 500 times stronger than you can commercially buy in the United States, to give to people the palliative care, that in many cases – in most cases – will treat the pain,” Stone said. “Sufentanil, another narcotic, is 1,000 times stronger than morphine. “
Stone reminded colleagues that suicide is not a crime. “Anyone in America can take their own life without government say-so,” he added.
One of the proponents’ claims was that assisted suicide will end end-of-life pain and suffering. “There are no medical protocols on dosage, nor can pharmacists guarantee these will not cause suffering” Stone said. In Oregon, 15 to 25 percent of people who take the lethal drug cocktails fail to die, he explained.
Sen. Stone said anyone can search the Internet and easily find deadly drug and alcohol combinations, including taking a 100-count bottle of Benadryl, with a six-pack of beer. “Before you get to that last beer, you’ll probably be gone,” Stone said. “So why do we need this law?”
“We took the Hypocratic Oath,” Stone said. “We do not administer poisons.”
One of the myths about assisted suicide in Oregon is that it is highly regulated and has strong safeguards, Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund explained in an interview. Golden said proponents gloss over the serious lack of safeguards in Oregon’s law. Minimal data collection and gross lack of strong oversight of assisted suicide undermines any pretense of rigorous monitoring or strict regulation, Golden says.
Several lawmakers in opposition warned that by adding assisted suicide to the existing treatment options available, it becomes the cheapest option and makes it easier for steadfast and unambiguous pressure to be exacted on the most vulnerable – especially the poor.
At one of the legislative hearings on the bill in 2015, Golden warned the “Death with Dignity Act” alleged to focus on patient autonomy and “choice,” but the focus instead should be on doing everything to improve care at the end of life. Golden said: “Don’t be seduced by rhetoric of choice for a few, into a dangerous policy change that will bring social injustice to many.”
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