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Calif. Medical Assoc. Praised for Dropping 28-Year Opposition to Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill

By Sean Crowley

Compassion & Choices today praised the California Medical Association for dropping its decades-long opposition to legislation that would protect physicians from criminal prosecution for providing terminally ill adults with the option of medical aid in dying.

CMA’s announcement states that it is “the first state medical association in the nation to change its position on the long-debated issue of physician aid in dying” by taking a ‘neutral’ position on the End of Life Option Act (SB 128). It also marks the first time CMA has not opposed such legislation since 1987.

The CMA’s president said: “it’s up to the patient and their physician to choose the course of treatment best suited for the situation – and CMA’s new position on physician aid in dying allows for that.” The timing of this announcement is important because the deadline for the Senate to pass the End of Life Option Act is June 5, only two weeks away. If the Senate passes the bill, the deadline in the Assembly to pass it is Sept. 11.

“The California Medical Association’s new ‘neutral’ position on medical aid in dying is a major milestone because its prior opposition to this legitimate medical practice doomed previous bills,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, an ER and ICU nurse for 25 years before she became an attorney and coauthored the Oregon Death with Dignity Act that is the model for SB 128. “We are seeing an enormous shift among medical organizations that is more reflective of the opinion of practicing physicians. This shift helps advance medical aid-in-dying legislation in California and throughout the nation.”

“With deep appreciation, I thank the California Medical Association for showing its leadership and wisdom in adopting its neutral policy stance,” said Dan Diaz, Brittany Maynard’s husband.  “It supports Brittany’s position: ‘This decision is mine to make, mine alone.”

“After months of research and collaboration, the California Medical Association has chosen to adopt a forward thinking, medically sound policy that will further the ability of California doctors  to properly treat terminally ill patients. Today, I strongly feel my daughter, Brittany Maynard, smiling down on her beloved home state, and I am confident that California legislators will take note of this important message from the CMA as they move forward in their efforts to pass Senate Bill 128, the California End of Life Option Act. Thank you to the CMA from the bottom of my mother’s heart,” said Deborah Ziegler, Brittany’s Maynard’s mother.

“As I’m now in bed nauseous and in pain from chemo, the CMA’s new position warmed my heart and was the highlight of my day,” said terminally ill Christy O’Donnell, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit Compassion & Choices filed on her behalf last week asserting that the California state constitution and existing state law allow medical aid in dying. “I was proud that my fellow Californians in the CMA chose to issue an opinion that now accurately reflects the medical needs and desires of the people of this state.”

American physicians believe by a 23 percent margin (54% vs. 31%) that patients with an “incurable and terminal” disease should have the option of medical aid in dying, according to a 2014 Medscape survey of 17,000 U.S. doctors representing 28 medical specialties. The previous Medscape survey in 2010 showed physicians supported medical aid in dying by only a five percent margin (46% vs. 41%).

A significant number of individual doctors and medical groups support medical aid in dying, including the American Nurses Association/CaliforniaAmerican Public Health AssociationAmerican College of Legal Medicine, American Women’s Medical Association, Gay & Lesbian Medical Association, and American Medical Student Association.

Read the CMA press release by clicking here.