The California Medical Association, capitulating to proponents of “physician-assisted suicide,” has become the first medical association in the country to eschew opposing the practice.
The association, which recently removed language calling the aid-in-dying process “physician-assisted suicide,” now has taken a neutral position regarding SB128, which would permit dying patients to use doctor-prescribed drugs to expedite the process. Legislators changed the bill so doctors and hospitals that refuse to practice the process can opt out, prompting the association’s acceptance.
The Catholic Church and some disability rights groups still oppose the practice. Dr. Luther Cobb, president of the California Medical Association, defended the group’s decision, telling The San Francisco Chronicle, “A substantial amount of people still believe this is a step toward active euthanasia. I don’t think that’s the case. This is a limited situation. By and large, medical care takes people and fixes them, … There will be a few people per year who will say this is too much, I will take the black pill.”
Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis), who co-authored SB128, said that the Senate Appropriations Committee should be able to send the bill to the Senate floor by the first week of June, just making the deadline of June 5. Co-author Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, added, “We still have a ways to go before SB128 becomes law in California. With this development, my level of cautious optimism has greatly increased.”
SB128 was brought before the Legislature in January, triggered by the death of East Bay newlywed Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon to die of brain cancer because California would not let her use drugs to hasten her demise. The California Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill on April 7, sending it to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
SB128, called the End of Life Option Act, would allow a patient to solicit the opinion of two California physicians that the patient had six months or less to live, thus allowing drugs to expedite the process. After conferring with the doctor about other options, the patient would have to make a written request and two oral requests at least 15 days apart. The patient could then secure the drugs, but would have to use them without the aid of others.
Tim Rosales, spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide, told the Chronicle, “It’s a bad bill because it has the possibility of impacting the most vulnerable in California who don’t have access to health insurance or the best of care and whose options are limited.”
Arguments against the bill include the fact that six-month “terminal” prognoses are often incorrect; a message could be sent that ill and disabled people do not matter; a request for such drugs might be the result of depression; a patient can be alone at the time of taking the medication, and it is possible other complications could result, rather than death; there is no true safeguard against coercion.