Monterey County Herald
July 8th, 2015
A proposal that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients has been stalled in the state Legislature, signaling that Californians may not be ready for such a law.
Supporters had been full speed ahead on the legislation, but when concerns were raised by some state Democrats, the bill’s sponsors decided to withdraw the proposal from consideration by a key Assembly committee. One of the bill’s sponsors, state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, has vowed to move ahead with his bill, even while acknowledging that it may not have enough support yet from fellow lawmakers.
“We lacked confidence in having the precise number of votes we needed,” said Monning, after the authors withdrew the bill from a scheduled hearing. “We didn’t want to roll the dice and have an end of the road today. We chose not to present it and are exploring our other options.”
Despite our qualified support of the efforts by end-of-life advocates to establish some sort of legal assisted suicide law for California, we are encouraged that others with concerns about its legalization have stepped forward. We’re sympathetic to those who passionately believe in legal assisted suicide, but we’re not convinced that all Californians are on board.
There are simply too many people with legal and moral concerns, and some state legislators stepped forward to give a voice to them.
Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, said the proposal conflicted with his beliefs based on his years working as an emergency medical technician. He told the Los Angeles Times: “I was there to protect and preserve life and give folks a second chance. It’s just something I couldn’t come to grips with in this bill.”
Another Southern California Democrat, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, said her mother died from a terminal illness but lived longer than her doctors had predicted.
The bill got its start in part by the publicity surrounding the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old terminally ill patient who moved to Oregon to fulfill her desire to end her life. Her belief in assisted suicide was powerful, and many supporters argued that California should have a bill similar to Oregon’s. But we’re always skeptical of legislation that results from news coverage, because often the issue at hand is more complex than just one person’s story.
What might have been right for Maynard and her family might not be the right fit for others. And it might not be right for medical personnel, for families in conflict or for those with religious and ethical concerns.
That’s not to say that we are entirely opposed to the idea of assisted suicide. But the legalization of it is something that might take time for Californians to become used to and need not be part of what seems to be a quickened pace of legislation establishing social changes often favored by the progressive left. We appreciate the concerns of dissenters. Establishing a legal procedure for assisted suicide should be done with care, and winning support from all factions of Californians is going to take some time.
By Alexei Koseff
The Sacramento Bee
With votes lining up against the measure, California’s controversial assisted death bill was pulled from the Assembly Health Committee schedule Tuesday for the second time in two weeks and appears done for the year.
Senate Bill 128, which would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients, passed the Senate last month but has encountered stiff resistance in the lower house amid lobbying from a coalition of medical, religious and disability rights groups. Of the 19 committee members contacted by The Sacramento Bee, just four said they would support the bill in its current form.
Proponents said they would continue to pursue the legislation, despite long odds and a critical deadline next week. Its authors were unclear, however, about how they might sway their wavering colleagues in order to meet a July 17 committee deadline – or whether they would gut-and-amend another bill already through the committee process to circumvent it. Supporters have also pledged to pursue a ballot initiative next year should SB 128 fall short.
“We don’t foreclose any option,” said Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel.
Past attempts to legalize assisted death in California also faltered, but SB 128’s champions believed that public sentiment had turned in their favor. They surmounted a major political obstacle when the California Medical Association silenced its long-standing aversion to helping ailing patients die.
The measure passed the Senate last month in an emotional session. The 23-15 vote fell largely along party lines, with a majority of Democrats in support and all Republicans opposed.
But an email Tuesday morning from Assembly Health Committee secretary Patty Rodgers to legislative offices indicated that SB 128 had been shelved.
“The authors will not pursue this bill this year – waiting on a statement from the authors explaining details and future plans,” she wrote.
The bill stalled over largely personal objections from members, including a handful of Latino Democrats, who make up a third of the committee.
Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, a co-author of SB 128, said the members she spoke to asked for no amendments, and some refused to speak with the family of Brittany Maynard, a Bay Area woman who became a national advocate last fall when she moved to Oregon to take advantage of the state’s assisted death law. Eggman suggested that the vocal opposition of the Catholic Church, which argues the policy is morally wrong, might have trumped other considerations.
“I appreciate the church’s consistency on life, but I don’t want any religious body making those decisions,” Eggman said, pointing out that she is Latina and Catholic herself. “We will talk to members about perhaps the difference between personal belief and good policy-making.”
A survey of Health Committee members indicated the bill would have been defeated had it gone to a vote.
The Bee received responses from 15 of the 19 members. Only four said they would vote yes: Democrats Rob Bonta of Alameda, Autumn Burke of Marina Del Rey, David Chiu of San Francisco and Susan Bonilla of Concord.
Seven were prepared to oppose it: Democrats Freddie Rodriguez of Pomona, Miguel Santiago of Los Angeles, Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and Sebastian Ridley-Thomas of Los Angeles, and Republicans Tom Lackey of Palmdale, Marc Steinorth of Rancho Cucamonga and Marie Waldron of Escondido.
“You’ve got to look at what I’ve done before the Legislature ... working to help save and protect peoples’ lives, giving that option – a second chance at life,” Rodriguez, who worked as an emergency medical technician, said Monday. “Letting folks have that option to end their life, it’s just something I can’t come to grips with.”
Last-minute lobbying efforts focused on the committee’s Latino Democrats. Believing that they need to counteract the influence of the Catholic Church, proponents brought famed civil rights activist Dolores Huerta to the Capitol, touted the support of actor Edward James Olmos, and released polls showing that a majority of California Latinos and Catholics approve of the measure.
But several members denied that religious objections were a decisive factor.
“There are times when I can be in clear policy opposition to the Church – clearly with a pro-choice stand as a Democrat, I can say ‘no’ to the church,” Santiago, a practicing Catholic who once weighed entering the seminary, said on Monday. “It’s more of an internal struggle of how to look at the end of life more than any impact of religious or political” pressure.
Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, planned to abstain from the Health Committee vote over concerns that SB 128 had insufficient protections for vulnerable patients, not for moral reasons. He said he grew up without health insurance and watched his father delay getting treatment for cancer until it was too late. He worried that uninsured patients would be more likely to choose assisted death because they felt it was their only treatment option, while those who do not speak English might not fully understand the choice.
“How do we deal with the fact that the system is fundamentally unfair to people in underserved communities?” he said.
Oncologists, clergy, Catholic hospitals, Latino community organizations and disability rights groups banded together to fight SB 128 as Californians Against Assisted Suicide. Tim Rosales, who coordinated the coalition’s campaign, said supporters of the bill were too focused on Latino members as a “monolithic community.”
He said his organization was able to cut across ideological and partisan lines by addressing the health care implications for the poor and disabled in California – a primary concern for many members – as well as faith-based arguments.
“Many of these groups don’t agree on much of anything else at all,” Rosales said. “To get them in one room, talking about one issue, leaving all other issues at the door, is unique to this coalition.”
Sacramento, CA - The No On SB 128/Californians Against Assisted Suicide coalition issued the following statement today from Marilyn Golden, No On SB 128 co-chair and Senior Policy Analyst for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund:
“What was seemingly inevitable just a month ago has seen increasing opposition due to a broad, bipartisan coalition that has worked tirelessly to inform California legislators about our policy concerns with assisted suicide.
“Those of us advocating on behalf of disability rights organizations understand that choice is a myth in the context of our health care reality. End-of-life treatment options are already limited for millions of people—constrained by poverty, disability discrimination, and other obstacles. Adding this so-called ‘choice’ into our dysfunctional healthcare system will push people into cheaper lethal options. There is no assurance everyone will be able to choose treatment over suicide; no material assistance for families of limited means who are struggling to care for loved ones; no meaningful protection from abusive family members or caregivers.”
Coalition coordinator Tim Rosales followed, “Throughout the country we have seen assisted suicide proposals begin with very high approval ratings only to go down to defeat. In 2012, the Massachusetts Ballot Question 2 voter initiative began with nearly 70% approval in many public opinion polls only to go down to defeat 51% to 49%. Already this year we have seen assisted suicide legislation fail in Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware and Nevada. The more people learn about the issue, the more public opinion turns against it.”
Background: Assisted suicide has only been passed in 3 states - Oregon (voter initiative), Washington (voter initiative) and Vermont (legislation). In 2015, assisted suicide legislation was defeated in states including Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, Maine, Delaware and Nevada. Similar legislation is currently stalled in New York and New Jersey.
In the State Senate, SB 128 passed by a floor vote of 23-15. Democrat Senator Tony Mendoza voted in opposition with Sen. Ben Hueso (D) abstaining and Sen. Richard Pan (D) abstaining in both the Senate Health Committee and floor votes. All Republicans voted no. The bill has now been pulled from the Assembly Health Committee a second time due to broad opposition.
En primer lugar, el suicidio asistido no ofrece segundas oportunidades
Por: Violeta M. Lewis
Jul 4, 2015
Hay mucho más en la historia del suicidio asistido que aun no ha sido cubierto hasta el momento y que los lectores, en especial a la comunidad latina necesita saber.
En primer lugar, el suicidio asistido no ofrece segundas oportunidades. Todos sabemos que a veces miembros de familia reciben diagnósticos que están equivocados y historias de diagnósticos erróneos son rampantes, como la predicción de cuando un paciente va a morir está lejos de ser una ciencia exacta. También es preocupante la realidad de la falta de acceso a el sistema medico para muchos latinos, en adquirir una segunda o tercera opinión médica es un lujo que muchas familias no pueden permitirse. Aprobaciones toman meses para recibir, los hospitales están superpobladas y familias inmigrantes siguen enfrentándose a desafíos de acceso.¿Cómo pueden los políticos en Sacramento permitir con facilidad la prescripción de píldoras de muerte a personas que enfrentan una enfermedad grave cuando muchos no aun no tienen acceso a opciones básicas de salud y, además, no son conscientes de tener o conseguir cobertura de seguro para cuidados paliativos?
Píldoras para el suicidio asistido cuestan mucho menos que el tratamiento médico para un paciente crónicamente enfermo, o alguna persona con una discapacidad que puede necesitar mayor atención que el paciente promedio. ¿Realmente confiamos en compañías de seguros y de HMO para a hacer lo correcto – o lo más barato?
Mientras que los defensores de suicidio a menudo hablan de Oregón, donde el suicidio asistido es legal desde hace más de una década, pero California no es Oregón. Los datos del Censo de Estados Unidos de 2010 nos muestran que California tiene aproximadamente 38 millones de habitantes, Oregón en 3,9 millones con sólo 390.000 hispanos en comparación con los más de 14,2 millones de California. Según los mismos datos 15.3 californianos hablan un idioma distinto del Inglés en el hogar, en comparación con sólo 538 mil residentes de Oregón. Engrandeciendo grietas para errores.El arzobispo Gómez de la Iglesia Católica y líderes de otras denominaciones nos oponemos fuertemente al suicidio asistido, también hay que considerar que los médicos que tratan el cáncer – oncólogos, han sido algunos de los opositores más vocales de suicidio asistido. Esto no es lo que quieren para los pacientes con que tratan y las familias que cuidan.Legisladores de California deben ofrecer opciones reales de salud, no pastillas de muerte. El suicidio asistido es una mala política pública de California y su población diversa.
by Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News
June 28, 2015
When he was 19, Anthony Orefice hit a telephone pole on his motorcycle going 100 miles per hour. Doctors told his family he wouldn't survive. He did, but the accident left him paralyzed from the chest down, unable to do what he loved -- surf, snowboard or ride dirt bikes."All you are thinking is the worst, worst, worst – everything you can't do," said Orefice, who lives in Valencia, Calif. "I wanted to be dead."
More than two decades after breaking his back, Orefice, 40, is married, has a 7-year-old son and owns a medical supply business. He also counsels patients newly disabled from spinal cord injuries. "Depression," he often tells them, "is part of the healing process."
As California legislators consider a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to get prescriptions to end their lives, disability rights advocates are speaking up in opposition. They worry that if it becomes law, depression and incorrect prognoses may lead people with serious disabilities to end their lives prematurely.
The bill poses "considerable dangers" to people with new disabilities who may have suicidal thoughts, said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst at Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. "It would almost be too easy to make an irrevocable choice," she said. "It could lead to people giving up on treatment and losing good years of their lives."
Golden added that the many people who initially received terminal diagnoses have "lived full lives (for) years or even decades" longer than expected.
Disability rights advocates have fought against bills and referendums in Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut and elsewhere that would have allowed doctors to prescribe lethal medication. They have met with legislators, participated in forums, conducted letter-writing campaigns and submitted newspaper opinion pieces.
"We have had success after success in stopping these bills," said John Kelly with Not Dead Yet, a grassroots group of advocates opposed to physician-assisted suicide. The coalition was less organized when laws passed in Washington, Oregon and Vermont, Kelly said. Now, he said they are determined to defeat any bill, including the one in California.
Allowing doctors to prescribe such medication would "open the floodgates" to people taking their lives under the mistaken impression that they are imminently dying or because they think they are a burden on their families, he said.
The proposed California legislation, Senate Bill 128, was prompted by the highly publicized death of Brittany Maynard, a young Bay Area woman with terminal brain cancer who moved to Oregon so she could get a lethal prescription. She took the medication and died in November.
The End of Life Option Act, introduced by Democratic Sens. Lois Wolk and Bill Monning, would allow patients to get fatal prescriptions if they are mentally competent and have six months or less to live. Patients would have to make one written and two oral requests 15 days apart.
Disability rights advocates say there aren't enough safeguards in the bill. In a letter to Wolk late last month, Deborah Doctor, a legislative advocate for Disability Rights California, wrote that disabled people are vulnerable to abuse and could be coerced by family members not acting in the patients' best interests. Relatives, she said, could put pressure on people to take life-ending medication.
"Everyone is not Brittany Maynard," Doctor said in an interview, noting that the young woman's family supported what she wanted. "Our responsibility is to think of people who are the most vulnerable to coercion, abuse and pressure."
Doctor also worries that in other cases, physicians may simply be wrong about how long someone has to live. Insurance companies also might overrule treatment for people with disabilities because of the cost of care.
Supporters of the bill say it has many protections built in. For example, they say, people wouldn't qualify based solely on having a disability. The bill also wouldn't allow medication to be prescribed if the person were suffering from a mental disorder that impaired judgment.
In addition, physicians would have to attest that the patient's request didn't result from undue influence from someone else. And patients would have the final say -- they must administer the medications to themselves.
"We don't want to see this law abused, and we certainly don't want to see it used against people with disabilities who have enough problems with the health care system," said Toni Broaddus, California campaign director for Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization that supports the bill.
In any event, Broaddus said the vast majority of disabled people wouldn't meet the criteria for life-ending prescriptions. "Most people with disabilities don't immediately have terminal illnesses and most disabilities are not terminal," she said.
Previous efforts to pass similar bills in California have failed under opposition from doctors, religious groups and disability advocates. But the new bill recently passed in the state Senate, and its chances may be buoyed by Maynard's case and by the California Medical Association's historic decision to declare a neutral position.
Laurie Hoirup, 59, strongly opposes the bill based on her own long experience. She has had spinal muscular atrophy since she was a toddler. With a curved spine and rods in her back, she cannot eat, bathe or go to the bathroom on her own. She has trouble breathing.
Physicians told her family that she wouldn't live past 10 years old. "Anyone could be given the wrong diagnoses," she said. "I am certainly the perfect example of that."
Hoirup, who is now a grandmother, spent many years working in government and other positions on behalf of people with disabilities. She said she is particularly concerned about people being coerced into ending their lives so they aren't a burden on others.
Orefice, who wished for death when he was 19, said he is now glad for what he calls the years of "bonus time." He still struggles with physical problems, including bladder infections and pressure sores. And three years ago, he had another unrelated health scare – colon cancer. He is now in remission.
But Orefice said he doesn't dwell on his disability or think much about death. Instead, he focuses on his family and thinks what he's been able to accomplish and what he still hopes to. He paddle boards, plays wheelchair hockey and races specially equipped off-road vehicles.
"I have affected more lives than I would have if I was walking," he said. "When you are in the trenches, you don't see that."