Calif. Doctors Now Neutral on Physician-Assisted Suicide

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 28, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A California bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients got a large show of support last week -- or at least a large removal of opposition. The California Medical Association (CMA) dropped its long-standing opposition to allowing doctors to help patients end their lives.

Instead, the CMA will take a neutral stance on SB 128, or the End of Life Option Act, but removing their opposition may make it easier for the bill to become law.

The Right to Die

The recent Brittany Maynard case highlighted the differences between state euthanasia laws. Maynard, a California native, suffered from terminal brain cancer and chose to voluntarily end her own life. Because California law outlaws "mercy killing," Maynard moved to Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients is permitted. (Washington and Vermont also have legalized euthanasia, while Montana law created a defense for physicians charged with assisting suicide.)

Maynard's story reignited one of the most divisive political and spiritual discussions in the country, and several states have begun introducing and debating various "Death With Dignity" acts. Thus far, California's is the only to receive tacit approval from the medical community.

End of Life Option

The California bill would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill patients with less than six months to live. The bill passed the state's Senate Health Committee in March.

CMA President Luther Cobb presented the group's opinion on the proposed legislation:

"As physicians, we want to provide the best care possible for our patients. However, despite the remarkable medical breakthroughs we've made and the world-class hospice or palliative care we can provide, it isn't always enough. The decision to participate in the End of Life Option Act is a very personal one between a doctor and their patient, which is why CMA has removed policy that outright objects to physicians aiding terminally ill patients in end-of-life options."

SB 128 is set for hearing on May 28, and is likely to spark more controversy and conversation in the coming months.

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