Disability rights, religious groups halt CA assisted suicide proposal

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News from California

The California Assembly shelved a bill July 7 that would have legalized assisted suicide in the nation’s largest state, pushing further debate on the bill until the next legislative session.

The California Senate approved the bill 23-14 in June, riding momentum from the California Medical Association’s decision to drop its opposition to the measure, becoming the first state medical association to do so. But the Assembly’s Health Committee declined to vote on the measure before the end of the legislative session, likely because it was unclear if the bill had enough votes to secure passage.

“What was seemingly inevitable just a month ago has seen increasing opposition due to a broad, bipartisan coalition that has worked tirelessly to inform California legislators about our policy concerns with assisted suicide,” said the Californians Against Assisted Suicide, which describes itself as a coalition of disability rights, health care, civil rights and patient advocacy organizations that oppose physician-assisted suicide, in a news release.

The End of Life Option Act would authorize physicians to prescribe lethal medications to patients who are terminally ill (according to the opinions of two doctors), mentally competent and undergo a 15-day waiting period after requesting the medication.

The CAS has been among the bill’s most vocal opponents. Supported by almost every major national disability rights group, the CAS argues the bill lacks sufficient protection against abuse by family members and caregivers, as well as the cost-saving incentives created by the legalization of such lethal prescriptions.

“Those of us advocating on behalf of disability rights organizations understand that choice is a myth in the context of our health care reality,” CAS said in a news release. “End-of-life treatment options are already limited for millions of people—constrained by poverty, disability discrimination, and other obstacles.

“Adding this so-called ‘choice’ into our dysfunctional health care system will push people into cheaper lethal options.”

Although voters in Oregon, Washington and Vermont have approved assisted suicide measures, such bills have failed in a variety of other states in recent years. Disability rights groups have been at the forefront in defeating measures in Massachusetts, where they campaigned successfully against a 2012 referendum, Connecticut and New Hampshire, among other states.