After watching his grandmother fight lung cancer and eventually pass away, Assemblymember Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, said he wanted to do something to help people who are terminally ill.
Together with fellow assembly- member Patty Berg, D-Eureka, Levin introduced the California Compassionate Choices Act to the California Legislature.
The bill, which was first introduced in February 2005, is modeled after Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which has been in effect in that state since 1997.
The Death With Dignity legislation permits adults who have six months or less to live to end their lives with prescription medications.
“It’s about providing people the autonomy at the end of their life to decide for themselves, under limited circumstances with safeguards, how they choose to die,” Levine said. Levine said people should be given the option of hastening their own death if they have a terminally ill disease.
According to Levine, there are two separate bills in the Legislature that would allow physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. AB 654 is currently on hold in the Assembly, and AB 651, a nearly identical bill created through a legislative procedure called “gut and amend,” will likely be voted on in the State Senate.
“We are the next generation of physicians, and we place particular importance on the autonomy of our patients,” said Leana Wen, president of the American Medical Student Association. According to Wen, AMSA has approximately 60,000 members and is the largest independent medical student association in the nation.
“We think that physician-assisted suicide is a very important aspect of care,” Wen said. “We think all other approaches to relieve the suffering of terminal illnesses have failed.”
Wen said the act encourages the discussion of end-of-life care, which can allow doctors to fully evaluate their patients for a variety of reasons.
The act includes an extensive list of safeguards, one of which is that the patient needs to be mentally capable of making decisions after being evaluated by two physicians.
In addition, the patient must make one written request and two oral requests for the prescription, with waiting periods in between requests.
“We think that this law has many safeguards to prevent abuses,” Wen said.
Levine also said that with the exception of Oregon, every state has people in it trying to hasten their lives using covert and illegal procedures.
“Here in California, what we’re trying to do is get it out in the open and allow people to do this,” Levine said.
Levine said that if the act becomes law, he expects its usage to be similar to what it has been in Oregon.
According to Levine, less than one-tenth of a percent of all deaths in Oregon involve physician-assisted suicide. Levine said the act should only be used under extreme circumstances, and that it is something to be taken very seriously.
“We want the public to recognize that it’s empowering (to) patients to have this law be passed,” Wen said.
“We live in a country where you could have a lot of individual choices,” Levine said. “Our country was founded on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This bill will allow people at the end of their life to choose for themselves how they want to die.”