California Approves Physician-Assisted Suicide; Bill Heads To Governor's Desk
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide in California is now headed to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. April Dembosky of KQED in San Francisco explains the state legislature passed the bill yesterday to allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally-ill patients.
APRIL DEMBOSKY, BYLINE: Lawmakers debated the legislation for nearly nine months. Hearings about the role of the state in allowing sick people to end their lives often became very emotional and very personal. Assemblymember Cheryl Brown, an opponent of the bill, says doctors get it wrong all the time. She says one of her relatives was given six months to live after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
JERRY BROWN: Six months later, he didn't die. Eight years later, after he had become a minister of the gospel, the Lord saw fit to take him home.
DEMBOSKY: But supporters emphasized that the measure is voluntary, and it is meant for people on the brink of death, facing unbearable pain and suffering. Assemblymember Susan Eggman is one of the authors of the bill.
SUSAN EGGMAN: We are a death-denying culture. People don't want to talk about it, thinking it won't happen to them. So our hope in being able to forward this legislation - to provide people who want it - options when they face the end of their life - will be able to further everybody to have these difficult conversations with their families.
DEMBOSKY: The bill includes numerous rules and protections. Patients must be mentally competent and physically able to swallow the lethal medication themselves. They must request the drugs three times before they can receive them. But some opponents say these protections aren't enough to prevent coercion.
JOEL ANDERSON: The legislation effectively paints a target on the back of each and every elderly and disabled person in our state.
DEMBOSKY: State Senator Joel Anderson repeated the concerns of elder abuse advocates who say heirs could still slip the medication to patients without their knowledge.
ANDERSON: We know, time after time, that money can move people to do evil things.
DEMBOSKY: Governor Jerry Brown now has 30 days to sign or veto the bill. He has not indicated what he will do. For NPR News, I'm April Dembosky in San Francisco.
SIMON: And that story is part of a reporting partnership between NPR, KQED, and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.