The California Compassion Choice Act was introduced to the state legislature, and would allow terminally ill patients to request medication that would put an end to their lives in a humane and dignified manner.
The bill, authored by state assemblymembers Patty Berg (D-Eureka), and Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), is intended to give dying patients an end-of-life option.
The bill would allow assisted suicide by use of lethal injection, active euthanasia or mercy killing, and would not consider assisted suicide to be homicide by the doctors who administer the drugs.
Only patients who are terminally ill, conscious and mentally sound could request the fatal medication.
The bill was modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act to provide a choice for terminally ill patients, said Crystal Straight, communications director for Assemblymember Patty Berg.
Oregon is the only state in the union with a similar law.
The bill contains restrictions to ensure that terminally ill patients are capable of making sound decisions, and would require that two physicians verify that the patient is coherent and capable of requesting the fatal medication.
Patients would have to request the drugs three separate times, including two verbal requests and one written request.
According to the bill, patients would get no less than 48 hours between the oral request and the writing of the prescription.
The bill also requires that both physicians agree that the terminally ill patient has six months or less to live.
The bill states that the patient may revoke his or her decision at any time, with no regard to his or her mental state.
Some patients already try to hasten their deaths, Straight said.
“A field poll found that 70 percent of (Californians are in favor of) the bill,” Straight said.
The bill incites mixed emotions from a variety of people.
“People should die when it’s their time,” said Elizabeth Tovera, freshman kinesiology major. “People should not take other people’s lives.”
The California Catholic Conference is also opposed to the newly proposed law.
“The people who would be put at risk are low-income individuals,” said Carol Hogan, communications director for the organization. “Insurance companies will pressure people to use a $50 drug, rather than choose prolonged care, and it’s a really bad idea and a distraction, since we currently have a budget crisis. The (bill) serves the needs of a small group of people.”
There is a misconception that Catholics do not support the bill, Straight said.
“Sixty-five percent of Catholics want it, and (making it seem that Catholics oppose the bill) is a myth propagated by the Church,” Straight said. “Church leadership and membership are not on the same page.”
Under the bill, physicians who administer the drugs would receive immunity from criminal or civil liability.
One sponsor of the bill is Compassionate Choices, a Denver-based organization.
Barbara Coombs Lee, co-CEO of Compassionate Choices, is an advocate for the bill, and said she believes Californians should have the option to end pain.
“Californians deserve what Oregonians have, a choice of a peaceful and humane death when suffering becomes unbearable,” Coombs Lee said.
Some CSUN students said they agreed with allowing assisted suicide.
“If a (patient) is on their deathbed, give it to them,” said Justin Tanthanaseridej, junior business major. “You’re going to suffer with them, and it depends on the situation.”
Marcel Hill, junior CTVA major, said he does not support the bill.
“I think they should just let them die naturally,” Hill said. “If they’re fatally ill anyway, they are going to die eventually. You don’t have to go out of your way to kill them.”
According to the bill, forging signatures, coercing patients to request the medication, and exerting undue influence of a patient’s request are felonies, therefore requiring a state mandated local program.
The bill would require the California Department of Health Services to adopt regulations for collecting statistical information, along with annual reviews of records.
The legislature found that medical studies have shown that between 5 and 10 percent of dying patients experience severe pain and suffering that cannot be eased by hospice or comfort care.