Pass the right- to- die bill

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Much- needed and long- over­due leg­is­la­tion that would al­low ter­mi­nally ill Cal­i­for­ni­ans to end their lives peace­fully and pain­lessly got off to a promis­ing start ear­lier this year, pass­ing two Se­nate com­mit­tees and win­ning ap­proval on the Se­nate f loor. The Cal­i­for­nia Med­i­cal Assn., pre­vi­ously a for­mi­da­ble foe of such bills, dropped its op­po­si­tion. But on Tues­day, SB 128 faces its tough­est hur­dle yet — a hear­ing in the Assem­bly Health Com­mit­tee, where sup­port is shaky. Ob­jec­tions range from moral qualms about al­low­ing peo­ple to kill them­selves to wor­ries that low- in­come peo­ple and those who aren’t f lu­ent in English will be pres­sured to take lethal doses of pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion.

We strongly urge the com­mit­tee to ap­prove the bill and send it on to the Assem­bly.

The re­al­ity is that if the bill fails, all Cal­i­for­ni­ans who face a fu­ture of ter­ri­ble pain or loss of cog­ni­tive abil­ity will be de­prived of the right to ex­ert some con­trol over their last days and the man­ner of their deaths, at least here in their own state. Those who can af­ford to might head to the in­creas­ing num­ber of states that do al­low res­i­dents to make such de­ci­sions, as Brit­tany May­nard, the young Cal­i­for­nia woman stricken with brain can­cer, did when she moved to Ore­gon and ended her life in 2014. Those with­out the means to move will have few if any choices.

SB 128 would al­low doc­tors to write a pre­scrip­tion for a lethal dose of drugs for pa- tients whose ill­nesses would oth­er­wise kill them within six months. It is re­plete with pro­tec­tions for those pa­tients, in­clud­ing safe­guards to en­sure that they are of sound mind, that they know about the al­ter­na­tives of hos­pice and pal­lia­tive care, and that in­sur­ance com­pa­nies do not use the right to die as an ex­cuse to with­hold other med­i­cal treat­ment. Doc­tors would not be al­lowed to ad­min­is­ter the med­i­ca­tion; pa­tients would be ex­pected to take it them­selves. The bill also would re­quire trans­la­tors for pa­tients who are not f lu­ent in English.

Many peo­ple — in­clud­ing some leg­is­la­tors, per­haps — be­lieve on re­li­gious grounds that end­ing one’s own life is wrong, re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances. They are en­ti­tled to re­spect for their be­liefs; at the same time, they have an obli­ga­tion to re­spect the dif­fer­ent be­liefs held by oth­ers.

This is­sue isn’t go­ing away. A law­suit al­ready seeks to strike down rules against al­low­ing doc­tors to write lethal pre­scrip­tions — a le­gal tac­tic that worked in New Mexico — and ad­vo­cates of the right to die have vowed to put an ini­tia­tive on the Cal­i­for­nia bal­lot if the Leg­is­la­ture balks on SB 128. Polls have re­peat­edly shown that most Cal­i­for­ni­ans sup­port a pa­tient’s right to make these life- or- death de­ci­sions.

But le­gal rul­ings and bal­lot mea­sures are un­likely to be as care­fully and pro­tec­tively crafted as SB 128. It is sim­ply wrong to deny ter­mi­nally ill Cal­i­for­ni­ans the abil­ity to choose the course of their fi­nal days.

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