Overdue Death-With-Dignity


There are certain advantages to being No. 2. Accustomed to blazing trails when it comes to controversial legislation, California lags behind Oregon when it comes to legalizing assisted suicide. So our neighbor to the north has already endured the court challenges and nasty partisan campaigns that such a law -- which pits individual choice against deeply held spiritual beliefs -- inevitably brings.

Today, the Assembly Appropriations Committee is to vote on a bill that would legalize assisted suicide in California. Sponsored by Assembly members Patty Berg (D-Eureka) and Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), it is modeled on Oregon’s 1997 assistedsuicide law, the only one of its kind in the nation. It’s a law that has eased pain and provided dignity, comfort and peace of mind to patients and their families in Oregon. It should be given the chance to do the same here.

As Times staff writer Nancy Vogel reported Tuesday, few of the hysterical predictions of the Oregon law’s opponents have come to pass. There is no evidence that terminally ill people from across the country are moving to Oregon to die, or that inheritance-minded families of elderly patients are coercing them to accept death, or that ghoulish insurers that don’t want to pay for end-of-life care are encouraging doctors to write deadly prescriptions.


The Oregon law and the California bill contain safeguards to protect vulnerable patients and prevent coercion.

Given the widespread support for physician-assisted suicide in California, it’s surprising the state hasn’t already passed a law allowing it.

According to the Field Poll, 70% of Californians favor giving terminally ill patients the option to end their lives with a doctor’s help. A majority has supported assisted suicide for the last 25 years.

A ballot initiative in 1992 was rejected after opponents, led by Catholic groups, mounted a last-minute ad blitz raising fears that the law could lead to accidental deaths. That was two years before Oregon voters approved that state’s assisted-suicide law; California voters know better now.

We would be the last to call for another ballot initiative; no one needs the distorted media campaigns and pandering to voters’ worst fears that would accompany a measure on such a sensitive issue. The Berg-Levine bill is a better solution.