SACRAMENTO, Calif. An end-of-life bill that would require doctors to tell their terminal patients about options to hasten their deaths, including starving themselves, passed the Assembly May 28 and will be heard on the Senate floor.
According to an analysis by Concerned Women for America, the bill undercuts established medical advances to ease dying for terminal patients and, in some cases, would allow end-of-life medical care to be passed on to less qualified health-care providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
"While careful pain management and palliative care at the end of a truly terminal illness are extremely important and support must be given to dying patients and their families, this bill, as written, is a step down a very slippery slope toward the assisted suicide bill we fought in last year's session," the CWA analysis reads.
Opponents of the bill say that it paves the way for a shift in pallative care that goes beyond pain relief to unconscious dehydration and starvation through the use of strong sedatives.
Further, they argue that the one-year-left-to-live diagnosis is arbitrary and often wrong, and requiring doctors to offer end-of-life options hits patients when they are most vulnerable. Some medical experts also believe that forcing doctors to even discuss those issues constitutes endorsement of the practices.
Finally, opponents are concerned those without health insurance and who are poor, might feel pressured into end-of-life decisions because of burdensome financial legacies for their families.
But Patty Berg, a Santa Rosa Democrat, who sponsored the bill with Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, said the legislation is merely promoting "honest talk" about medical options. Berg, who was unsuccessful in three previous attempts to legislate physician-assisted suicide, decided this year to try a different approach.
Her latest bill is supported by Compassion and Choices, a pro-euthanasia group that was formerly called the Hemlock Society.
"Unlike my previous end-of-life bill, which was rejected and which I no longer am pursuing, my new bill doesn't give anyone any new options," Berg wrote in a May 15 opinion piece for Capitol Weekly. Everything that is illegal nowand that most notably includes physician-aided dyingwould remain illegal. AB 2747 changes none of that. Instead, it provides a precious commodity information.
"Most people in the Capitol understand the difference. Some, however, are still fighting last year's battle and are trying to convince the gullible that my new bill is a Trojan horse, designed somehow to legalize aid-in-dying. That is simply not the case."
But Marilyn Golden, a policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, disagrees and in a May 22 rebuttal in Capitol Weekly.
"The real 'honest talk' about AB 2747 is that it has very little to do with improving care," Golden wrote. "For this bill, the devil is really in the details. Close inspection reveals it to be a vehicle for Compassion and Choices' long-term agenda: facilitating assisted suicide. Let's not forget that this is the organization formerly known as the Hemlock Society and one of the primary sponsors of this legislation. The bill includes many elements that would significantly undermine end-of-life care in service of this goal."
The Assembly vote was 42-34. The bill will now be heard in the Senate Judiciary committee.
For more information on AB 2747, the end-of-life bill visit these links:
• Assembly bill text and history
• Concerned Women for America
• California ProLife Council
• Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
Click here to see How the Calif. assembly members voted on the end-of-life bill