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CA Assembly Public Health Committee Clears Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill

Emotional Hearing on Brittany Maynard-Inspired Bill Draws Hundreds of Supporters

(Sacramento, CA – Sept. 1, 2015) The California Assembly Public Health and Developmental Services Committee today approved a bill with bipartisan support by a 10 to 3 vote to give terminally ill adults facing unbearable suffering the option of medical aid in dying. The legislation, called the End of Life Option Act (ABX2-15), now moves to the Assembly Finance Committee, and if that committee approves it, the full Assembly will vote on it.

The approval of the End of Life Option Act comes a week after California legislators re-introduced the legislation as one of a handful of health-related bills in special session. While the special session operates under different rules than the full legislature, it is expected that it will run through Sept. 11 and adjourn at the same time as the legislature.

“The Assembly Public Health Committee’s stamp of approval of the End of Life Option Act is a major step toward passing a law to give terminally ill Californians the option to shorten an unbearable dying process,” said Toni Broaddus, California campaign director for Compassion & Choices. “The compelling stories of people touched by this issue clearly won over the committee. We hope Assemblymembers will continue to listen to the impassioned voices of terminally ill Californians who desperately need medical aid in dying as an end-of-life option.”

Nearly seven out of 10 California voters (69%), including 70 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of Catholics voters, support the End of Life Option Act, according to a bipartisan statewide poll. 

The End of Life Option Act would give mentally capable adults with a terminal prognosis of six months or less to live the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication that they could take to painlessly and peacefully shorten their dying process.

The bill includes the strongest safeguards of any law or legislation of its kind in the country.

The dying person is required to make two oral requests for the medication, 15 days apart, followed by a written request. In addition, two witnesses must confirm in writing that the dying person is acting voluntarily and is not being coerced into requesting aid-in-dying medication. Prior to providing a prescription, doctors are required to confirm that the applicant is fully informed about alternatives to medical aid in dying, including comfort care, hospice care and pain control, also known as palliative care.

“I appreciate the support from my Assembly colleagues on the Public Health and Developmental Services Committee who passed this important piece of legislation,” said Senator Monning. “Every successful milestone moves us one step closer to providing a compassionate alternative for terminally ill patients who have run out of other treatment options.”

Senator Wolk thanked her colleagues in the Assembly for demonstrating “their compassion for those facing the end of life.”

The End of Life Option Act was inspired by Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer who moved to Oregon to utilize its Death with Dignity Act last year.

According to a new study published by the Journal of Palliative Medicine, the Oregon law “has resulted in or at least reflects more open conversation and careful evaluation of end-of-life options, more appropriate palliative care training of physicians, and more efforts to reduce barriers to access to hospice care and has thus increased hospice referrals and reduced potentially concerning patterns of hospice use in the state.”

Only three other states authorize the medical option of aid in dying: Washington, Montana and Vermont. 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 in California and other states nationwide.

Hundreds of End of Life Option Act supporters, clad in yellow T-shirts, heard testimony by Christy O’Donnell, a single mom with terminal lung cancer that has metastasized to her brain, liver, spine and rib.

“I have excruciating headaches. I’m nauseous, I have intense neck and back pain, she said. “I have painful shingles and excruciating neuropathy in my hands and feet. As I am morphine intolerant my palliative care doctor has struggled in finding any pain medications that work.”

During the hearing, Assemblymembers also heard testimony from Dan Diaz, the widower of Brittany Maynard.

“It is offensive to hear people judge those of us who want the option of having a gentle and peaceful dying process,” he said. “There are certain diseases that produce horrific and needless suffering at the end of life; Brittany’s case was one of those.”

Diaz fought back tears as he recalled the painful death of his friend, Jennifer Glass, who stood next to him during a January news conference to announce the bill introduction.

“My wife Brittany passed away gently; Jennifer’s death was not as gentle,” he said.  “In either case it was the individual determining that it was their time, and in either case the result was the same, death.  But the manner of getting there was quite different.   Shouldn’t the individual have the option of which they would choose for themselves?”

An oncologist from Palo Alto, Dr. Mike Turbow, whose disabled son died three years ago, testified about the thousands of dying patients he treated in hospice and palliative care during his medical career of nearly 40 years.

“This law does not target the disabled; it is about relieving suffering in terminally ill patients,” said Dr. Turbow. “So long as a patient with a terminal illness, whether disabled or not, can make a rational decision, medical aid in dying should be an option, along with palliative care and hospice, available to all Californians.”