(Sacramento, CA – Aug. 18, 2015) California lawmakers have reintroduced the End of Life Option Act as one of a handful of health-related bills they will consider during their 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.
This time, the California bill was introduced by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, with Senators Bill Monning and Lois Wolk acting as the primary co-authors.
“This issue is urgent for terminally ill Californians from all walks of life who cannot afford to wait for relief from unbearable suffering in their final days,” said Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus during a news conference to announce the bill reintroduction at the state Capitol. “These Californians are dying in a very painful way, without access to medical options that could help them die peacefully.”
The safeguards in this legislation are so strong that the California Medical Association, which has historically opposed similar bills, dropped its opposition to the End of Life Option Act in May. Two weeks later, the California Senate approved the bill, but it stalled in the Assembly Health Committee. The California bill would give terminally ill people in the final months and weeks of a terminal disease the option to request and receive a doctor’s prescription for medication they could take to end their dying process if their suffering becomes too great.
Nearly seven out of 10 California voters (69%), including 70 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of Catholics, support the End of Life Option Act, according to June bipartisan poll.
“We promised that we were committed to continuing to fight for expanded end-of-life care options for Californians, and we have kept that promise,” said Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, new author of the bill, ABX2-15, formerly numbered as SB 128. “We will not wait another year.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning and Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk, the original bill’s coauthors, urged immediate passage of the legislation.
“It is a disservice to these individuals and their families not to take action now,” said Senator Monning.
“Two California superior court judges have recently looked at this [issue] and told desperate and terminally ill patients it is the Legislature’s responsibility to act,” Senator Wolk said. “It’s time to act now.”
Elizabeth Wallner, a single mom with stage IV colon cancer spoke about the fears of leaving her family with memories of a haunting death.
“What scares me more is to have my only son, a teenager, and my family watch me die slowly and painfully from cancer,” she said. “I don’t want this agonizingly traumatic image to be their last memory of me.”
Dolores Huerta, labor leader and civil rights activist, recalled her mother’s death from breast cancer that metastasized throughout her body.
“My life-long work as an advocate for social justice has taught me that these difficult moments require our utmost compassion, the wisdom to imagine walking in another person’s shoes and the ability to respect the wishes of others,” she said.
The End of Life Option Act was inspired by Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian who chose to move to Oregon last year to utilize its medical aid-in-dying law to peacefully end her intolerable dying process from terminal brain cancer.
Her husband, Dan Diaz, recalled the recent death of his friend Jennifer Glass from San Mateo. Glass, a medical aid-in-dying supporter who fought until her last breath to help pass the End of Life Option Act, died last week (see newly released video she recorded last November here). Glass was scheduled to testify in support of the bill before the Assembly Health Committee on July 7, but the hearing was cancelled.
“On that Tuesday morning I sat at her bedside, I saw my dear friend that I’d known for seven months, unconscious and withering away,” Diaz said. “The pain that Jennifer was experiencing from the tumor, that had now spread to her brain, had become unbearable. So at Jennifer’s request, she had been put into terminal sedation 5 days earlier. Jennifer died later that night, but that was not the dying process she had wanted. Why did Jennifer Glass have to endure those 5 days in that manner?”
The End of Life Option Act is closely modeled after Oregon’s Death-With-Dignity law, which has worked as intended for over 17 years without a single documented incident of abuse.