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Assisted Suicide Bill Update -California
by Susan W. Enouen, P.E.

California’s “Compassionate Choices Act,” AB 374, a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide in the state of California, has been laid to rest for this legislative year. After passing easily through the Assembly Judiciary Committee on March 27 th and the House Appropriations Committee on May 31 st, the bill had the support of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate Majority leader Gloria Romero. With Democrats ruling both legislative houses, it seemed to have a reasonable chance of passing. However, on June 7, 2007, when it became clear that the measure would not get enough votes to pass in the Assembly, authors Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine shelved the bill. The option of making it a 2-year bill remains, so it could re-appear in 2008, but it would be a controversial bill to pass in an election year.

The proposed law, similar to Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, was touted as having more safeguards than Oregon’s law, and it did indeed call out more restrictions and requirements. However, it provided no penalties for failure to comply with these provisions, which meant that violators could not be charged with any crimes. The bill’s “safeguards” were merely an illusion of safety; they provided no more genuine patient protection than Oregon’s law.

Proponents of the bill received substantial help from a PAS (Physician Assisted Suicide) advocacy group called Compassion and Choices, an organization formed in 2005 when the Hemlock Society merged with the advocacy group Compassion in Dying. Another leading promoter of the bill was the California Association of Physicians Groups, an organization that represents such health insurance conglomerates as Kaiser Permanente, Pacific Care Health Systems and HealthNet of California.

Those opposing the bill included the California Medical Association and the American Medical Association. They joined forces with the Californians Against Assisted Suicide (CAAS), a broad coalition of medical and hospital personnel, disability rights organizations, advocates for low-income workers, a Latino civil rights group, and Catholic and pro-life groups. Together, these voices of reason prevailed over those who would make death just another “choice.”

It was a huge defeat for PAS proponents. Barbara Coombs Lee, of Compassion and Choices said, “If it doesn’t pass there [CA], that will be a pretty good sign to us that no legislative body will pass it.” [NY Times, 6/2/07]

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