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California Senate Sends End-Of-Life Bill to Governor Brown

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Debbie Ziegler, center, the mother of Brittany Maynard, is comforted by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, left, and Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, in this file photo from a news conference at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

The decision of whether to allow terminally ill Californians to end their lives prematurely now rests with Gov. Jerry Brown.

After a final, emotional debate at the Capitol, the state Senate on Friday voted 23 to 14 to send Brown the End of Life Option Act.

It would require patients to make two verbal requests of a physician for a lethal prescription, at least 15 days apart, as well as a written request.

Two witnesses would be required for the written request to attest that the patient is of sound mind and not under duress.

Supporters said the measure offers "death with dignity" through the relief of pain and suffering. They said it was time to move forward on legislation that’s been in the making for more than a decade.

“It’s time to take this kind of a decision out of the hands of government and into the hands of family, loved ones and their physician,” Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson said she rejects the idea that only God can decide how one dies.

"That isn't my God's decision," Jackson said. "My God wants me to be able to make that decision."

Opponents in the Legislature have included a mix of Republicans and Democrats. Many say the measure amounts to "assisted suicide" and warned that some might abuse it by coercing elderly family members to end their lives early. They also said insurance companies might push for its use to cut costs.

"I’m not going to push the old or weak out of this world. I think that could be the unintended consequence of this legislation,” Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, told his colleagues.

“We’re playing God,” added Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga.

A nearly identical bill stalled in an Assembly committee earlier this year. Lawmakers brought it back during a special legislative session called by the governor to address health care funding.

The current version of the measure includes a sunset clause requiring the Legislature to review its implementation in 10 years. It also allows physicians to choose not to prescribe end-of-life drugs to a patient.

Similar end-of-life bills stalled in the Legislature in 2005 and 2007. California voters defeated a 1992 ballot measure that would have allowed physicians to administer lethal injections to their patients.

Efforts to pass the measure over the past year 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.