Assisted-suicide bill in California clears first hurdle

Oregon remains the only state that allows physician-assisted suicide.

By Kevin B. O’Reilly — Posted April 16, 2007

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A bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide in California passed out of the Judiciary Committee of the state Assembly on a 7-3 vote in late March. In early April the bill appeared likely to clear the entire chamber thanks to the support of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a Los Angeles Democrat.

Senate Majority Leader Don Perata, an Oakland Democrat, is "open to the bill," according to Inside Bay Area. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, has not ruled out signing the bill if it reaches his desk, though he said the controversial issue should be put directly to the voters in a referendum.

After the committee vote, the California Medical Assn. reaffirmed its stance against physicians helping terminally ill patients die. "Assisting someone to die is unethical and unacceptable and is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer," CMA President Anmol S. Mahal, MD, said in a statement. The AMA also opposes physician-assisted suicide and supports efforts to improve palliative care at the end of life.

The California Assn. of Physician Groups announced its support for the bill before the Judiciary Committee vote. The CAPG comprises 150 physician group practices that employ or contract with 59,000 physicians.

"When physicians can no longer heal the disease or alleviate the symptoms, terminally ill patients have a right to control the circumstances of their death," the organization's medical director, Wells Shoemaker, MD, said in a statement.

Oregon's nine-year-old Death With Dignity Act, upon which the California bill is modeled, remains the only law in the nation that allows physician-assisted suicide. Voters narrowly passed it into law through a statewide referendum. In mid-March, the Vermont House rejected a physician-assisted suicide bill.

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