Following more than two hours of impassioned debate, the state Assembly on Wednesday passed legislation that would allow terminally ill Californians to take prescription drugs to end their lives. The vote was 42 to 33 and did not break down along strict party lines.
During the debate, lawmakers shared stories of loved ones who have passed away following terminal diseases. Opponents of the bill noted that some loved ones lived much longer than doctors predicted. Some even regained their health, they said.
“Members, I’m asking you to vote your conscience,” said Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, who voted against the bill. “Vote for the miracles I believe take place each and every day. Each and every day! I’m not gonna give up. I’m not gonna give up. Thank you.”
Opponents warned that some might abuse the legislation by coercing elderly family members to end their lives early. They also said insurance companies might push for its use to cut costs.
“I can see someone coming in and saying, you know, your disability is so bad, why don’t you just take this pill and leave us!” said Asm. Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino.
Supporters of the measure said it was time to give Californians without the chance of recovery the right to end their suffering.
“This bill does not interfere with faith. This bill is about choice,” Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Los Angeles County told his colleagues. “Allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults choose to die with dignity and pain-free.”
“We are all going to die,“ said Asm. Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton. “As we look back at that trail, at the footsteps that we’ve left on that path, some people, members, want to be in control when their footstep makes the last mark.”
A nearly identical bill stalled in an Assembly committee earlier this year.
Supporters are now trying again as part of a special legislative session called by Gov. Jerry Brown to address health care financing. That prompted Republicans to challenge this bill on the Assembly floor as not germane to the special session - a challenge rejected by majority Democrats.
The bill must still pass the Senate before reaching Gov. Jerry Brown, who declined to say whether he'll sign the measure when asked by reporters Wednesday.
Efforts to pass the legislation were inspired by Brittany Maynard, who had terminal brain cancer.
The 29-year-old Bay Area woman moved to Oregon last year to legally end her life last year with the help of doctors. Oregon is one of five states in the nation that allows terminally ill patients to kill themselves with life-ending drugs.
Brown spoke with Maynard by phone for an hour late last year.