SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers are pursuing right-to-die legislation after the highly publicized death of a young woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life.
The proposal would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication nearly a decade after similar legislation failed. Terminally ill patients can legally take their lives in five states, including Oregon.
Advocates for aid in dying are ramping up their efforts across the U.S. using the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Bay Area woman who moved with family to Oregon and ended her life in November. She argued in online videos and national media appearances that she should have had the right to die in California.
“Why should someone who willingly wants to avail themselves of this option have to go to another state? It just adds to the suffering and challenge at an already difficult time,” Democratic state Sen. Bill Monning said Tuesday.
Opponents say some patients may feel pressured to end their lives if doctors are allowed to prescribe fatal medication. Religious groups have condemned aid-in-dying legislation as against God's will.
Monning is among three Democratic lawmakers who plan to appear with Maynard's family to promote right-to-die legislation Wednesday. It would be limited to mentally competent patients with less than six months to live and requires they take deadly medication themselves without help from a doctor.
His bill is modeled off of Oregon's law, which was approved by voters in 1994. Since then, 752 people ended their lives through the law, according to Oregon state statistics.
Washington voters also approved right-to-die legislation, while court decisions in New Mexico and Montana have essentially legalized aid in dying.
Vermont's Legislature became the first group of lawmakers to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives in 2013, but other statehouses have been hesitant.
New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut have rejected similar legislative proposals recently. Right-to-die legislation failed in California in 2007 over objections from Catholic and medical groups.
Molly Weedn, a spokeswoman for the California Medical Association, says her group has longstanding “opposition to physician assisted suicide because it is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as a healer.”
The group is waiting to review the new bill before taking a position.
Compassion & Choices, which advocates for right-to-die laws, hopes publicity around Maynard's story will reverse the string of legislative defeats. It is also considering taking the issue before California voters in 2016.
“Legislators now understand this is a social justice issue that has huge popular support, and they want to be part of it,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices.
Since Maynard's story became widely known, elected officials in Washington, D.C., Wyoming and Pennsylvania have also proposed new end-of-life laws. Lawmakers in other states including New York and Colorado are also planning legislation.
Tim Rosales, a spokesman for a California coalition opposing right-to-die bills, says the focus on Maynard has been a “well-orchestrated” campaign that distracts from the broader consequences of allowing terminally ill patients to kill themselves.
“It's all the more reason for legislators and their constituents to take a real hard look at the issue and not one just individual,” said Rosales of Californians Against Assisted Suicide.