California Prepares for Renewed Debate on Assisted Suicide

A Democratic assemblywoman is prepared to push a bill that would make California the first state after Oregon to allow doctors to prescribe fatal medications for the terminally ill.

Assemblywoman Patty Berg (D-Santa Rosa), a Eureka resident who founded Planned Parenthood in her area many years ago, co-wrote what she and Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) call the California Compassionate Choices Act – a measure that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs upon the request of a patient who has been certified as terminally ill by two different physicians.

Berg, 63, sees the issue as one of individual choice.

"A terminally ill person has the right to make that choice," she says, according to the Sacramento Bee. "It's an issue of privacy, and, to me, it's an issue of dignity."

With the U.S. Supreme Court clearing the way in January for states to make their own laws on the issue of assisted suicide, Berg is prepared to push the bill, making an effort similar to one that was made last year while the Supreme Court decision was still pending last year.

Though the previous effort had died in Assembly, the language has been amended into Assembly Bill 651 and Berg and Levine are hoping the measure will be heard by a Senate committee in May, the Bee reported.

Californians Against Assisted Suicide, a coalition formed to oppose the bill, says it would potentially endanger people with disabilities who could be pressured into ending their own lives, and that it would run counter to doctors' roles as healers.

“We believe assisted suicide represents a destructive response to illness or disability,” the group says in their mission statement. “As such, any legalization of assisted suicide is bad public policy and harmful to the well being of all Californians.”

The California Disability Alliance and Physicians for Compassionate Care are among CAAS’s growing list of Coalition members, which so far includes 33 supporting organizations.

However, according to a new Field Poll, a majority of Californians favor a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives with a lethal prescription.

The survey, taken in February and whose results were reported by the Sacramento Bee last month, found that 57 percent of California adults support Assembly Bill 651 and that 70 percent of adults supported the general idea of allowing people to terminate their own lives.

“There are signs that Americans may actually be resigning themselves to the inevitability of euthanasia and the Culture of Death,” writes Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in an Apr. 4 column.

However, the Field Poll also showed that the percentage of people who said they would want a doctor to help them die if they were terminally ill themselves dropped to 62 percent, from 68 percent last year.