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CA Assembly Passes 1st Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill in State’s History

Supporters Optimistic Senate Will Pass Bill by Friday Deadline

(Sacramento, Calif. – Sept. 9, 2015) Compassion & Choices today praised the California Assembly for its bipartisan approval of a medical aid-in-dying bill. The bill passed with bipartisan support for the first time in history, only two weeks after the legislation was introduced in the special session.

The Assembly passed the bill, called the End of Life Option Act (ABX2-15), by a vote of 44 to 35. It now moves to the Senate, which passed a similar version of the legislation (SB-128) in June. The authors face a deadline of Friday, September 11 to pass ABX2-15.

Hundreds of End of Life Option Act supporters crowded the State Capitol halls clad in yellow T-shirts to make last-minute visits to their assemblymembers urging them to support the bill. Some chanted cheers of “si se puede” (yes we can) in honor of civil rights icon, Dolores Huerta, who also supports the legislation.

“The bipartisan approval of this bill is a major milestone for our movement to empower patients in their end-of-life decisions. Dying Californians facing unbearable suffering in their last months can’t wait another year for lawmakers to act,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, a lawyer, former ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant who coauthored the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

“The situation is urgent for those who, like Brittany Maynard, want their imminent deaths to come peacefully, but unlike her, cannot move to Oregon,” added Coombs Lee. “We are confident the Senate will make passing this bill by the Friday deadline a top priority. After all, it already passed similar legislation in June.”

“To say I’m excited by the win today might seem odd, because I don’t want to die! But I’m excited about knowing that I and thousands of other Californians now have a real chance to die peacefully and painlessly,” said Christy O’Donnell, a 47-year-old single mother, civil rights attorney and former LAPD sergeant from Santa Clarita who is dying  of terminal lung cancer that has metastasized to her brain, liver, spine and rib. A Christian and lifelong Republican, she testified in support of the End of Life Option Act before the Assembly last week. “Governor Brown, give us that chance — please!”

Last week, the Assembly Finance Committee and the Assembly Public Health and Developmental Services Committee approved the bill. If the special session Senate Public Health and Finance committees and the full Senate approve the End of Life Option Act before the Sept. 11 deadline, it will go to Governor Jerry Brown. He has 30 days to sign or veto the bill. If he takes no action within 30 days, the legislation automatically becomes law.

“We have invested significant resources in California to pass this law,” said Compassion & Choices Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “We provided model legislation based on the Oregon law, engaged four lobbying firms to build support in the Capitol, conducted in-depth research and activated tens of thousands of supporters to reach out to their legislators.

The End of Life Option Act is closely modeled after the death-with-dignity law in Oregon, which has worked well for 17 years, without a single documented case of abuse or coercion. Currently, three other states authorize medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana and Vermont.

“This issue is of immense importance to all Californians, and I was confident that the full Assembly, reflective of and responsive to the people it represents, would do the right thing and move us closer to making it possible for terminally-ill Californians to decide for themselves how to manage their last days,” said Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, a bill coauthor.

“The Assembly’s vote today reflects Californians’ overwhelming support for terminally ill individuals’ right to decide to die peacefully and without pain,” said Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk, a bill coauthor. “Today we are one step closer to giving those Californians the ability to decide what is right for them with their doctor, their family and other loved ones.”

Three out of four Californians support the End of Life Option Act, including 82 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents and 67 percent of Republicans, according to a new poll released last week by the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) at the University of California, Berkeley. Yet, two decades after Oregon voters passed our nation’s first death-with-dignity law in 1997, California still has not authorized this end-of-life option.

Another bill coauthor, Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning, thanked his colleagues in the Assembly for their “support of providing an option for terminally ill individuals who are faced with difficult end-of-life decisions.”

“This is a historic step forward for Californians with terminal illnesses that have been looking to the Legislature for the option to determine the quality of their final days of life based on their own personal beliefs,” he added.

The Assembly floor vote comes 10 months after the death of Brittany Maynard. The 29-year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer brought international attention to this issue when she had to move to Oregon to utilize its law authorizing the option of medical aid in dying last year. In the final weeks of her life, Maynard partnered with Compassion & Choices to launch a campaign to make aid in dying an open and accessible medical option for dying adults in California and nationwide.

“It is especially gratifying to see that the California Legislature will no longer abandon terminally ill individuals like Brittany who simply want to secure a gentle passing if it becomes necessary for them,” said Brittany Maynard’s husband, Dan Diaz, who lives in Alamo. Diaz testified before the Assembly last week in support the End of Life Option Act and has met with legislators one-on-one urging them to support the bill since its introduction in January.

“With 3 out of 4 Californians agreeing with Brittany that a terminally ill individual should have access to aid-in-dying medication in order to avoid horrible suffering in their final days on this earth, the vote today reaffirms Brittany’s reason for trying to help those in her situation,” Diaz concluded.

“Today’s vote was a step toward victory for humanity,” said Debbie Ziegler, Brittany Maynard’s mother, who lives in Carlsbad. She has testified before the Senate in support of the End of Life Option Act and also has met with lawmakers one-on-one urging them to support the bill since its introduction in January.

“I am thankful California legislators listened to the voices of the terminally ill who spoke with their last breaths,” Ziegler concluded. “It is evident that our legislators listened to our needs and answered with compassion.”