Editorial:  ‘Right to die’ legislation: Right bill, wrong time

Susan Talamantes Eggman, Debbie Ziegler

Debbie Ziegler holds a photo of her daughter, Brittany Maynard—a California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life last fall—during an Aug. 18 news conference to announce the reintroduction of right to die legislation.

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The Legislature should be ashamed of itself for not passing this year’s “right to die” bill. Yet a last-ditch effort that is underway to resuscitate it would rely on an end-run around the legislative process, an idea that’s almost as bad as the bill is good. As Gov. Jerry Brown has said, it would be better to wait a year and try again, the right way. What’s more, he should apply that reasoning equally to all the bills that don’t belong in a special legislative session that’s supposed to focus narrowly on funding healthcare for the poor.

SB 128 would have allowed doctors to provide terminally ill patients with a lethal prescription after numerous conditions were met, including a prognosis of death within six months. We strongly supported that bill. But after it stalled in committee, its supporters created a separate right-to-die bill and announced plans to introduce it at the special legislative session that Brown has called to deal with healthcare costs.

Except the right-to-die bill isn’t about how the state can pay for healthcare services, which is the subject of the session. Nor is the bill that would raise the legal smoking age to 21, or the one that would treat e-cigarettes as though they were the same as cigarettes under the law — two other failed measures that proponents are seeking to resuscitate at the special session. And there are more.

If these bills are taken up at the session, they would not only get another chance and a sped-up process but also hearings in smaller committees. In the case of the right-to-die bill, the three members missing from the smaller committee all opposed the bill.

They were wrong to oppose it. Regardless of the personal and religious ideologies of individual legislators, terminally ill Californians should have the right to control the manner of their own deaths. But the legislative process, for all its faults, was set up to give bills a thorough and sometimes difficult vetting. Unless a bill addresses an urgent matter that must be resolved right away, it should not be shoehorned into the special legislative session. Such sessions are convened to focus legislators’ attention on addressing specific issues and should not be an excuse to bring in every tangential piece of legislation.

The right-to-die movement has popular opinion on its side, and it’s not going away. Next year offer an opportunity to intensify the campaign. Supporters have vowed to put an initiative on the ballot if the Legislature fails to act. A thoughtful bill would be a better way to go, but lawmakers are forewarned: Californians are getting tired of waiting.

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