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Brittany Maynard's Death May Bring Life to 'Aid in Dying' Bill

Just months after Brittany Maynard used Oregon's aid-in-dying law to end her life with prescription drugs rather than letting terminal brain cancer take her, the California legislature is almost certain to consider similar legislation.
Just months after Brittany Maynard used Oregon's aid-in-dying law to end her life with prescription drugs rather than letting terminal brain cancer take her, the California legislature is almost certain to consider similar legislation. | Photo: Dan Cox/Flickr/Creative Commons
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With her planned assisted death in the face of terminal brain cancer last year, Brittany Maynard brought new life to a national discussion. The California native moved to Oregon because of its death with dignity law. California wouldn't allow her to end her life with medicine prescribed by a doctor, as she did on Nov. 1.

But the California legislature is almost certainly going to consider legalizing "aid in dying" or "assisted suicide" -- two names for the practice, depending on your politics.

Sens. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and Lois Wolk (D-Davis) are reportedly crafting a bill, though none has yet been entered in the young legislative session.

Sen. Monning will host a press conference on Jan. 21, at 1:30 p.m. (live streamed on his website). The announcement could kick off the official campaign to make California the sixth state to permit this end of life choice.

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"The time is right for California to advance the conversation about end of life options," Monning wrote in an email to KCET. "We are working together to establish a process that honors a terminally ill patient's right to make informed decisions about dying, including an individual's option to reduce suffering by hastening death," said Monning.

Over 100 attempts have been made to pass aid in dying legislation around the country over the past twenty years, said Tim Rosales, spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide. Only Oregon, Washington, and Vermont have passed measures, and courts have ruled favorably toward assisting patients with their deaths in Montana and New Mexico.

"We've heard they are drafting an Oregon-style assisted suicide bill, similar to one that has come up and been modeled in other state legislatures around the country recently," said Rosales.

And though timing might be on the side of advocates, the issue is likely to spark a fire. Among likely opponents are the medical, disability and religious communities. The Association of Northern California Oncologists, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Medical Oncology Association of Southern California, California Hospice and Palliative Care Association, and Not Dead Yet are opponents, Rosales said. As is the California Medical Association, which helped defeat California's last aid in dying bill, AB 374, the California Compassionate Choices Act from 2007.

Of course, not all physicians agree with the California Medical Association.

Among many objections, Californians Against Assisted Suicide find fault with Oregon's bill because it doesn't require the doctor prescribing a lethal overdose to be the patient's attending physician, nor does it provide a strong enough focus on patients' psychiatric care or evaluation.

Whether or not a bill is introduced and enacted, Rosales said the issue could wind up as a ballot measure in 2016.

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