Christy O’Donnell (left) with her daughter.
[Compassion & Choices and Assembly Democratic Caucus, Sept. 2] – Supporters of the End of Life Option Act, including Christy O’Donnell of Santa Clarita, celebrated Tuesday when the bill passed out of the Assembly Public Health Committee.
ABX2-15 would allow mentally-capable, terminally-ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for aid-in-dying drugs to painlessly and peacefully hasten their death.
O’Donnell is the lead plaintiff in a suit asserting the California constitution and state law allow terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying.
“I have told the Senate and I will now share with you. That the reason I’m in favor of aid in dying is because every human being deserves as an option, as their own choice, no matter what faith base they have for themselves, they deserve the choice,” said O’Donnell, who lives in Valencia. “I want the choice to be in my own bed with my daughter holding my hand while I pass peacefully. I do not want her sitting vigil by my bed for days or weeks watching me die.”
The bill passed out of the committee in a vote of 10-3.
The approval of the End of Life Option Act comes a week after California legislators re-introduced the legislation as one of a handful of health-related bills in special session. While the special session operates under different rules than the full legislature, it is expected that it will run through Sept. 11 and adjourn at the same time as the legislature.
The bill includes the strongest safeguards of any law or legislation of its kind in the country.
The dying person is required to make two oral requests for the medication, 15 days apart, followed by a written request. In addition, two witnesses must confirm in writing that the dying person is acting voluntarily and is not being coerced into requesting aid-in-dying medication. Prior to providing a prescription, doctors are required to confirm that the applicant is fully informed about alternatives to medical aid in dying, including comfort care, hospice care and pain control, also known as palliative care.
An earlier version of the bill, SB 128, had stalled in a committee. Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, introduced the new version following two recent Superior Court rulings that have underlined that it is the responsibility of the legislature, not the courts, to change the law.
The new bill is nearly identical to SB128, which was authored by State Senators Bill Monning, D-Carmel and Lois Wolk, D-Davis. They joined Eggman by co-authoring ABX2-15, along with joint authors Assemblymembers Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, and Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley.
The bill’s safeguards for patients and physicians were strong enough for the California Medical Association, which had earlier opposed the bill, to take a neutral position.
Nearly seven out of 10 California voters (69 percent), including 70 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of Catholics voters, support the End of Life Option Act, according to a bipartisan statewide poll.
“The End of Life Option Act was fairly heard today and passed the test. The people of California, who are in overwhelming support of our effort, have been heard,” Eggman said.
The bill now moves to the Assembly Finance Committee, and if that committee approves it, the full Assembly will vote on it.
The End of Life Option Act was inspired by Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer who moved to Oregon to utilize its Death with Dignity Act last year.
According to a new study published by the Journal of Palliative Medicine, the Oregon law “has resulted in or at least reflects more open conversation and careful evaluation of end-of-life options, more appropriate palliative care training of physicians, and more efforts to reduce barriers to access to hospice care and has thus increased hospice referrals and reduced potentially concerning patterns of hospice use in the state.”
Only three other states authorize the medical option of aid in dying: Washington, Montana and Vermont. In the final weeks of her life, Maynard partnered with Compassion & Choices to launch a campaign to make aid in dying an open and accessible medical option in California and other states nationwide.
During the hearing, Assemblymembers heard testimony from Dan Diaz, the widower of Brittany Maynard.
“It is offensive to hear people judge those of us who want the option of having a gentle and peaceful dying process,” he said. “There are certain diseases that produce horrific and needless suffering at the end of life; Brittany’s case was one of those.”
Diaz fought back tears as he recalled the painful death of his friend, Jennifer Glass, who stood next to him during a January news conference to announce the bill introduction.
“My wife Brittany passed away gently; Jennifer’s death was not as gentle,” he said. “In either case it was the individual determining that it was their time, and in either case the result was the same, death. But the manner of getting there was quite different. Shouldn’t the individual have the option of which they would choose for themselves?”
An oncologist from Palo Alto, Dr. Mike Turbow, whose disabled son died three years ago, testified about the thousands of dying patients he treated in hospice and palliative care during his medical career of nearly 40 years.
“This law does not target the disabled; it is about relieving suffering in terminally ill patients,” said Dr. Turbow. “So long as a patient with a terminal illness, whether disabled or not, can make a rational decision, medical aid in dying should be an option, along with palliative care and hospice, available to all Californians.”