Assisted Suicide Bill Advances to Assembly
In the wake of the Terri Schiavo case, a new assembly bill, AB 654, is hitting a raw nerve. The legislation would legalize physician-assisted suicide for adult patients who have been diagnosed with an incurable and irreversible disease and have been given 6 months or less to live. The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted and approved AB 654 on May 25.
Also known as “The California Compassionate Choices Act,” the bill is modeled after the 1997 “Death with Dignity Act” of Oregon, which is the only state in the nation where terminally ill patients have the legal option of physician-assisted suicide.
The bill’s sponsors, Patty Berg (D-Eureka) and Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), argue that medical systems tend to focus on keeping patients alive at all costs, even when the patient would prefer to die. The authors believe patients suffering with a terminal illness should have the option to choose a physician-assisted death.
Opponents, including the California Family Council (CFC) and some disability rights groups, say the bill opens the door for abuse and/or overuse. Socially devalued persons such as the elderly, the chronically ill, or people with disabilities, might feel pressured to choose the option, especially in the current climate of tightening health care resources, where competition for medical dollars occurs between old and young, and between the chronically and the terminally ill.
The Assembly will vote on the bill next week.