Legislation that would allow physicians in California to provide lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients to hasten their deaths passed the first committee Wednesday after some two hours of often-emotional testimony.
The Senate Health Committee voted 5 to 2, with both Republicans in opposition, to pass the measure on to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel received testimony that included a video of Brittany Maynard, made before her assisted death in Oregon last year, in which she urged California to adopt the proposal.
Democratic Sen. Richard Pan, a physician, did not vote after the testimony portion at a packed hearing that also included Maynard's husband and mother.
Democratic Sens. Lois Wolk of Davis and Bill Monning of Carmel said their SB 128 would allow a mentally competent, terminally ill adult California resident in the final stages of life to request aid-in-dying medication from a physician.
Former LAPD Officer Christy O'Donnell gave a tearful description of her battle against terminal cancer and urged support for the legislation. She said she wants to die in her own bed with her daughter holding her hand. "When I pass, I do not want her to watch me in pain."
Similar bills have failed twice before in California. Some doctors argue it undermines their role to heal the sick. "Physician-assisted suicide is the antithesis of being a physician," said Warren Fong, president of the Medical Oncology Assn. of Southern California.
Disabled and depressed people might be coerced to end their lives by people with financial motives, worried Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.
"It's a deadly mix to combine our broken, profit-driven healthcare system and assisted suicide, which would instantly become the cheapest treatment," Golden told the Senate panel.
Wolk said there are safeguards, including a requirement that cases be reviewed by two physicians.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who at one point considered becoming a Catholic priest, has not yet taken a public position on the proposal, an aide said.