In 2015 when the California Legislature eventually passed AB2X-15, a controversial physician assisted suicide bill, many in opposition 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.
Despite a tremendous amount of opposition and an unorthodox trip through the Legislature, Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law.
Modeled after the Oregon assisted suicide 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 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.
The only way the bill passed was the compromise of a few restrictions: a Sunset date of 2025, and a 15-day waiting period to obtain a prescription of the lethal drug cocktail.
Tuesday, the bill’s author, Sen. Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) was in the Assembly Judiciary Committee with another bill to toss out the sunset date, and lessen the two week waiting period to 2 days.
This is how lawmakers eventually get what they originally wanted out of the bill – they come back a few years later and remove the compromises and safeguards.
SB 380 will remove the protections in the original bill now deemed “unnecessary.” In testimony, Eggman said she was terming out and therefore wanted to get the safeguards removed from the law now.
But Eggman was met with resistance from Democrats on the Assembly Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-San Bernardino) said her greatest concern with the bill is the reduced waiting time period from 15 days to 48 hours, and “removing the sunset is concerning.” Reyes added “the safeguards provided in the original bill provide enough opportunity to avail themselves of this option,” referring to the end of life physician assisted suicide option.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) also expressed concern with removing the safeguards. She said she’d like to see more information and data about how long people live who are considering assisted suicide from the terminal diagnosis.
Both Gomez Reyes and Gonzalez said they’d like to see more done to lessen pain and improve end of life care.
The bill faced strong opposition from the Catholic Church, disability rights groups, and other patients’ rights groups looking to protect elderly, and mentally and physically incapacitated patients.
Dan Okenfuss, Public Policy Manager at California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC) testified in opposition to SB 380 warning that there was a “serious lack of data” from the 2015 law. “There’s no information about patients’ illnesses, no psychological evaluations, and no data when the patient ingests the drugs.” Okenfuss said it’s just too premature to consider removing the safeguards.
One of the issues that cropped up in 2015 were myths about assisted suicide in Oregon – that it is “highly regulated and has strong safeguards.” Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund 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. Golden warned the “Death with Dignity Act” alleges 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.”
Others expressed similar concerns in opposition to SB 380. Serena Alvarez representing LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), the largest and oldest Hispanic membership organization in the country, said California is first in the nation for hospice fraud, and referenced a Los Angeles Times article that investigated. She also said the Latino community was being targeted. “Our families do not have health care,” Alvarez said. She said the Compassion and Choices website is even targeting Latinos.
“Compassion and Choices ” (formerly the Hemlock Society) is a George Soros-funded pro-suicide-organization that has tried to convince lawmakers throughout the country it is a grassroots organization. Far from grassroots, the well-funded Compassion and Choices works to convince the sick and depressed that taking your own life is honorable, according to disability rights groups.
Ironically, Compassion and Choices website currently has a news article touting “Planned Parenthood of Illinois Board Member to Join Compassion & Choices Board.”
The Assembly Judiciary Committee bill analysis addressed the support of Compassion & Choices:
Compassion & Choices explains that existing law should be changed for several reasons: 1) greater transparency around the implementation of the California End of Life Option Act so that patients can make timely and informed decisions about their end-of-life care, while respecting the desire of providers to be able to opt out of participation; 2) the waiting period to be shortened so that it does not become an unnecessary suffering period; and 3) several small, but important changes to the law to improve access without compromising patient safety, such as clarifying the medical aid in dying may be self-administered in a healthcare facility.
In opposition in the bill analysis is Disability Rights California:
Disability Rights California focuses on two issues in its letter of opposition. First, it objects to the removal of the 15-day waiting period to obtain a prescription on the basis that, “Many people requesting assisted suicide have changed their minds—some living decades beyond their prognosis, having achieved a cure for the supposedly “terminal” illness.” Second, they object to the elimination of the final attestation, in which the patient affirms that they are voluntarily taking the lethal drugs at the time of ingestion. According to Disability Rights California, “This removal puts patient autonomy at risk, opening the door to abuse by greedy heirs or abusive caregivers. No reporting, no 3rd party witnesses at time of death make it so no one would ever know if the person changed their mind or if there was coercion.” They also add that, “It is premature and dangerous to make the End of Life Act permanent in the absence of data that would help us better understand the impact of assisted suicide on Californians.”
Be sure to read the Globe’s April article with then-Sen. Jeff Stone’s important 2015 testimony in opposition, as a practicing pharmacist. Stone reminded colleagues that suicide is not a crime. “Anyone in America can take their own life without government say-so.” He added, “We took the Hypocratic Oath,” Stone said. “We do not administer poisons.”
When the Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing ended, only two members of the committee voted in favor of passing SB 380 – not enough to pass. We will provide an update later when all votes are in.