A second attempt to pass an aid-in-dying bill goes before a key legislative committee Tuesday, but it already has suffered a setback as the California Medical Assn. is warning it will oppose the measure if proposed amendments are added.
The bill would allow physicians in California to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who could then hasten the end of their lives.
A similar bill failed to garner enough votes in the Assembly Health Committee during the regular session, but a separate measure has been introduced by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) as part of a special session called by Gov. Jerry Brown on healthcare issues.
A newly constituted Assembly Public Health and Developmental Services Committee, minus several Assembly members who opposed the bill in the last session, will hear the bill Tuesday. Because the Senate previously approved the measure, getting through Tuesday’s committee would give the bill new momentum.
However, an amendment proposed in the committee would allow civil lawsuits to be filed against physicians based on allegations of willful or wanton misconduct. CMA officials said Tuesday they will have to switch their position from neutral to opposed if the amendments are included because of concern that they would generate costly and frivolous lawsuits.
“While CMA’s organizational position on the issue remains neutral, we regrettably will be opposing ABx15 if the proposed amendments are accepted,” the association said in a statement.
“Participation in the End of Life Option Act is a sensitive and personal process made between a physician and their patient and protecting that relationship is essential,” the group added. “Proposed amendments would allow for frivolous lawsuits that would chill physician participation in the program.”
Assemblywoman Eggman said the issue raised by the proposed change needs to be considered. “It’s important to strike the right balance of protections between patients and physicians, who are not required to participate,” she said. “Willful misconduct is anything but frivolous, and ensuring some recourse to patients is vital to preserving the balance of safeguards in the bill.”
The physicians’ group said creating a new right to sue is unnecessary because the Medical Board of California would have the authority to suspend or revoke a physician’s license for not meeting the standard of care.
Even if the lawsuits don’t have merit, the great potential cost of physicians defending themselves in court would be enough to persuade many doctors not to participate in the aid-in-dying process, the group said.