Right-to-die bill, advocated by Brittany Maynard, passes California Senate committee

Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at 29, moved from California to Oregon, where physician assisted suicide was legal, dying there because California forbade the practice.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Physician-assisted suicide would be legal for terminally ill patients in California under a bill passed on Wednesday by a committee of the state Senate.

The bill, passed by the Senate Health Committee, would allow patients who are mentally competent and have fewer than six months to live to obtain prescriptions for medication to end their lives.

“This end-of-life decision should remain with the individual, as a matter of personal freedom and liberty without criminalizing those who help to honor our wishes,” said state Senator Lois Wolk, a Democrat representing suburbs east of San Francisco and the state’s wine country and one of the bill’s authors.

Brittany Maynard

Photo courtesy of Mariano Cuajao via Flickr

Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at 29, moved from California to Oregon, where physician assisted suicide is legal, dying there because California forbids the practice.

The California bill is moving through the legislature at a time when the issue of assisted suicide has sparked public attention following the death of brain cancer patient Brittany Maynard last fall.

Maynard, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at 29, moved from California to Oregon, where physician assisted suicide is legal, dying there because California forbids the practice.

Before she died, Maynard recorded testimony in favor of passing such a law in California, which was played for the committee on Wednesday.

“I am heartbroken that I had to leave behind my home, my community, and my friends in California, but I am dying and I refuse to lose my dignity,” Maynard said. “I refuse to subject myself and my family to purposeless, prolonged pain and suffering at the hands of an incurable disease.”

The bill is opposed by disability rights activists, who fear it would lead to the deaths of vulnerable people at the hands of unscrupulous relatives or caregivers.

They also fear insurance companies will push assisted suicide for those whose care is expensive.

“I’ve been given a terminal diagnosis at least four times,” said Laurie Hoirup, 59, who uses a wheelchair. “Had I opted for this I would not be alive today.”

Several religious groups also oppose the bill.

If it passes, California would become one of a handful of U.S. states that allow assisted suicide, including Oregon and Washington. Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada cleared the way for physician-assisted suicide there. Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland are among countries that allow it.

The California bill won the five votes needed to pass the Health Committee, but members did not declare a final tally as absent senators planned to weigh in later on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Eric Beech)

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  • How wise to approve suicide on the testimony of one, poor soul and ignore the testimonies against it by an institution such as the Church ! Thank God Brittany has come along and enlightened California. What have we all been thinking for the last 65,000 years? Thank you, Brittany………oh, what, you’re dead? Well, even smarter to take advice from a corpse…….

  • Just like the folly of the US abolishing slavery in 1865 after slavery was supported by the church so long? Or the follow of allowing women a voice in 1920, again against the advice of the church?

    As with those examples, I don’t thing your “church tradition” is a sound argument.

    More importantly, it centrally important to realize that any rational person who would never want to kill themselves, under any circumstances, is a supporter of Brittany’s bill (along with those who might want to kill themselves if terminally ill). Why? Because this bill allows people to make the choice for themselves. If you are against assisted suicide, fine – don’t do it. But to be opposed to this bill, one has to not just be against their own assisted suicide, but be actively wanting to force their views on everyone else.

    That’s why this discussion isn’t about whether or not you would or wouldn’t kill yourself if terminally ill. Its about denying others that choice.

  • Others should be denied “the choice”, society should protect its citizens with moral laws, rather than allow it to destroy itself. We can kill our babies, our elderly, and now ourselves……but the death penalty for criminals is an act of barbarism.

    Oh, and the Church never supported slavery nor condemned the voting rights of women. Neither are faith-based concerns, so any comment on either would not be binding……..unless you are referring to the endless forms of Protestantism.

  • “the Church” LOL. Which one? There are over 500+

    Jimmy, why do you have to lie so badly? The Southern Baptists was set up specifically to support slavery. The Catholic Church was a major supporter of the slave trade.

    The religious objections to this kind of bill are irrelevant. Laws require rational and secular purposes to them. Nobody is compelled into assisted suicide.

    That being said, there is a rational objection to assisted suicide. It places a moral and professional burden on the people involved with the act of assistance. Unless one is in a vegetative state (and would be unable to consent to assisted suicide anyway), there are always means one can use to kill themselves without assistance of others. They may not be pleasant or painless, but they are quicker than a slow death from a terminal disease.

  • For those of you trying to keep track:

    James Carr is vehemently opposed to a law that allows terminally ill people to voluntarily check out a little bit early and skip out on some pointless suffering, but merely amused by (and probably quietly supportive of) a law that would impose the death penalty on people for leading the wrong love life.

    There is only one question for right-thinking people to ask themselves: Will you be joining James at church on Sunday, or do you reject religion and embrace the truth of atheism?

  • Boy, I am humbled by your profile, Pan!

    Just kidding, it was a compliment actually. For those who wish to kill themselves with dignity, they could take the place of a death row inmate which would quiet the nerves of the anti death penalty folks. OR, if that other law passes, they could save a gay by switching identities!

    Now, if you have an elderly, pregnant lesbian sitting on death row with a terminal illness, all bases would be covered for a dignified death. Atheists should be behind this 100 %. The Church and its crazy ideas, right?

  • This issue is obscured by calling it the “right to die.”
    It is, rather, the question when anyone has the right to commit suicide — that is, to cause one’s self to die. But the answer depends on the more fundamental question: who owns every human’s life? Surely, the one who owns human life is the who originates life and continues to preserve it through time. We do not do that for or to ourselves. We do not originate our lives and only help preserve them. Not owning our lives, we have no right to end them.

  • Does anyone else have an argument against assisted suicide besides, “god says so”. As an argument it is incredibly self-serving and arrogant. It assumes all people should live under the rules of your personal faith.

    If your religion forbids it, don’t do it. But it is not a valid reason to keep others from doing so.

    How is this for a reason, it is unreasonable to ask others to do something like that when you can kill yourself on your own accord. Even with total paralysis you can always indicate ” turn off the machines/feeding tube”.

  • Because we are less likely to burn people at the stake over differences of opinion on the subject. The site is also not called Fundie Nutjob News Service, but it attracts them as well.

    So you are so lacking in any kind of free thought that you can’t cough up an objection to assisted suicide besides God says so. Wow, do they lobotomize you after the baptism?

  • “Does anyone else have an argument against assisted suicide besides, ‘god says so’.”

    Actually, most (*) disability rights organizations in the US oppose death with dignity laws. They just don’t get as much press as the religious. Their argument is that enabling terminally ill people to check out slightly ahead of schedule constitutes a Nazi-style extermination policy against the disabled.

    (*) I actually think it’s all of them, but somebody might be able to dig up one exception.

  • Thank you Great God Pan.

    At least they have arguments which could be taken seriously when considering such a law. There is also an issue with consent as well. Its what got Kevorkian in trouble. He assisted a woman whose mental faculties were questionable.

    Short of requiring all people wishing for assisted suicide to write out a request in their own hand, witnessed and notarized like a will, consent will always raise questions.

    As I said before, I am not opposed to the suicide part, its the assisted part that worries me.

  • “Short of requiring all people wishing for assisted suicide to write out a request in their own hand, witnessed and notarized like a will…”

    I believe Oregon’s law does require a written, witnessed statement (probably not handwritten, as that could be a problem for some terminally ill people) along with two oral requests issued something like 4 weeks apart. California’s bill is based on Oregon’s law but I haven’t seen any reports on the details yet. I’d imagine the requirements are basically the same.

  • @The Great God Pan

    Well that certainly puts to rest the objections of the disabled groups. Its not an “extermination policy” when its clearly voluntary.

    Still my big thing about it is, why do you need someone’s help or the apparatus of the state to kill yourself? I know its a bit of a crass question. But I can’t think of a way someone who is capable of giving consent to die isn’t also capable of performing the act. Even in total paralysis, one can request not to have life sustaining care.