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California Senate Passes First Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill in CA History

Supporters Optimistic Assembly Will Pass Bill by Sept. 11 Deadline

(Sacramento, CA – June 4, 2015) Compassion & Choices praised the California Senate today for passing a medical aid-in-dying bill for the first time in history, two weeks after the California Medical Association dropped its 28-year opposition to such legislation. The vote to approve the bill, the End of Life Option Act (SB 128), was 23 to 14. The bill now moves to the Assembly, where the deadline to pass the bill is Sept. 11.

SB 128 would allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication that they could take to painlessly and peacefully shorten their dying process.

“This is a historic moment in our state for terminally ill Californians facing unbearable suffering who need and want more end-of-life options,” said Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “We are thrilled with the Senate vote and optimistic that the Assembly will respond to the voices of dying Californians by passing this legislation before its Sept. 11 deadline.”

The Senate floor vote comes seven 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 death-with-dignity law 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.

“Brittany would be very proud to see the monumental shift occurring on the End of Life Option legislation,” said Dan Diaz, her widower. “Brittany and I respect those who might not pursue this option if they found themselves in a situation similar to hers. However, no one should stand in the way of someone who is suffering from a terminal illness from making the decisions that are best for them. An End of Life Option law will not result in more people dying; it will result in fewer people suffering.”

The End of Life Option Act, co-authored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning and Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk, is the first medical aid-in-dying bill to be approved by the Senate since the first attempt to pass such legislation in 1992.

“I am gratified that my colleagues in the Senate support a compassionate option for dying patients facing difficult end-of-life decisions in their final days,” said Senator Monning. “I look forward to continued collaboration with my legislative colleagues to ensure passage of the End of Life Option Act in the Assembly.”

Senator Lois Wolk referred to the passage as “one step closer to ensuring Californians have access to all options to limit suffering at the end of life.”

The news was well received by Christy O’Donnell, a 46-year-old single mother dying from lung and brain cancer, who testified in support of SB 128 before the Senate Health Committee. Unfortunately, her doctors say she will likely die painfully within the next few months from the cancer that has spread to tumors in her brain, spine, ribs and liver.

Watch video of O’Donnell’s joyful reaction immediately after the Senate passed the End of Life Option Act by clicking here or at the following URL: www.youtube.com/watch?v=asPJPckawIc&feature=youtu.be.

“I implore the Assembly to change the law to give every person the option to live and die peacefully in California,” said O’Donnell, an attorney and former sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department. “All of us who have chosen to live and work in California should have the option, together with our family and doctors, to have access to the end-of-life option in order to shorten our dying process if we are suffering and in pain.”

Debbie Ziegler recalled her daughter Brittany’s last days, used to support aid in dying legislation.

“Brittany stood up for what she thought was right, advocating for other terminally ill patients in the last weeks of her life,” she said. “On this historic day, I profoundly feel my daughter’s presence and pride as the California Senate stands with her, acknowledging that terminally ill Californians have an irrefutable right to decide to die in peace and to seek a doctor’s aid in doing so.”

California voters support the medical option of aid in dying by more than a 2-1 margin (64 percent vs. 24 percent). Yet, two decades after Oregon voters rejected a ballot initiative to block implementation of our nation’s first death-with-dignity law in 1997, California still has not authorized this practice. 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, four other states authorize medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.