California right-to-die bill struggling amid religious fight

AP News
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Posted: Jul 07, 2015 11:55 AM
California right-to-die bill struggling amid religious fight

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Legislation that would allow California physicians to help terminally ill patients end their lives has met strong opposition from lawmakers in Catholic districts and others ahead of a Tuesday vote.

Aid-in-dying advocates hoped the nationally publicized case of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life last fall, would prompt a wave of new state laws allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medications.

But no state has passed right-to-die legislation this year, and efforts have been defeated or stalled in Colorado, Maine, New Jersey and elsewhere.

Maynard's family has been coming to Sacramento in support of California's bill, which faces opposition from the Catholic Church and other groups that say it amounts to assisted suicide and goes against the will of God.

The bill's authors, Sens. Lois Wolk of Davis and Bill Monning of Carmel, already postponed the vote last month because they did not have enough support from fellow Democrats on the 19-member Assembly Health Committee to advance it. The panel is scheduled to hear the legislation Tuesday afternoon.

The holdouts have included lawmakers from heavily Catholic districts in the Los Angeles area, where the archdiocese is actively opposing the bill. Similar legislation failed in 2007 amid religious opposition.

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, was among the lawmakers still making up his mind, but he said Monday that he was more torn over the lack of patient safeguards in the measure than pressure from Catholic constituents.

The issue also is deeply personal for him. Gomez said he cared for his father with pancreatic cancer and was the one to tell him he had weeks to live.

"It's not a religious thing for me. It's how this is going to be implemented in the real world," Gomez said.

He questioned the lack of mandatory mental health evaluations for patients seeking life-ending drugs.

"It's a matter of life and death, and we have to make sure we get this bill right," he said.

The right-to-die advocacy group Compassion and Choices focused lobbying efforts on Gomez and two other Democrats by touting what it calls broad public support for the legislation.

"The voters are saying that they are supporting this bill, and we hope our legislators are listening to them," said Patricia A. González-Portillo, a spokeswoman for the group, which has said it would pursue a ballot initiative if the bill fails.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the California Catholic Conference, said some churches were encouraging parishioners to call lawmakers to oppose the bill but support had already been eroding.

"As people are more familiar with the legislation, they become more and more opposed to it," Eckery said.

Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have court decisions or laws permitting doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs, and a court ruling is pending in New Mexico.