Assisted Suicide Bill Coming Up in California

by Susan Jones,
Thursday, March 31, 2005

California lawmakers will soon take up a bill that would legalize doctor-assisted suicide.

State Assembly Bill 654, introduced by Democrats Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine in February, is scheduled for an April 12 hearing and possible vote in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

According to its text, the bill would authorize mentally competent adults who have been diagnosed with a terminal disease to request medication for the purpose of ending their lives in a humane and dignified manner.

It would also give doctors immunity from civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action for prescribing lethal doses of drugs in good-faith compliance with the act.

Supporters of assisted suicide, including Compassion in Dying and the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization, say the bill gives people freedom of choice at the end of life.

On the other side of the argument, a group called Californians Against Assisted Suicide has been established to defeat the bill. CAAS -- a coalition of health care, disability rights, and grassroots advocacy organizations -- believes that assisted suicide is a destructive response to illness or disability.

"As such, any legalization of assisted suicide is bad public policy and harmful to the well being of all Californians," the group said on its website.

CAAS says the "suicide-promotion" legislation is unnecessary because California law already gives patients the right to refuse extraordinary end-of-life treatment.

The group sees a special danger to newly disabled people, who may need time to work through their initial despondency or depression. An assisted suicide bill would make it all too easy to succumb to despair, the group said.

CAAS also warns that millions of low-income Californians who don't have access to basic health care would find it easier to kill themselves if the bill becomes law. "The last to receive health care would be the first to receive assisted suicide," the group said.

Both the American Medical Association and the California Medical Association -- and a host of other medical and disability rights groups -- oppose the legislation.

A similar measure failed the California Legislature in 1999, and an initiative to legalize the practice was defeated by voters in 1992 by an 8 percent margin.

Only Oregon has an assisted-suicide bill, and an effort is also under way in Vermont to pass similar legislation there.


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