A bill making its way through the California legislature would make it legal to encourage the terminally ill to engage in physician-assisted suicide.

After a Riverside County judge in May that California’s controversial assisted suicide law was improperly passed in 2015 during a “special session,” the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal stayed the ruling in June pending the outcome of further litigation.

The law, signed by Governor Jerry Brown, permits doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients with six months or less to live. Despite the assisted suicide law, California Penal Code 401(a) still states that, “Every person who deliberately aids, advises, or encourages another to commit suicide, is guilty of a felony.” 

Although the existing legislation could be in technical jeopardy, a new bill introduced in 2017, currently up for a final vote, would broaden physician-assisted suicide laws in California and render the technical "special session" issue moot.

AB 282, introduced at the beginning of the 2017 session by Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) adds the following section:

(b) A person whose actions are compliant with the provisions of the End of Life Option Act (Part 1.85 (commencing with Section 443) of Division 1 of the Health and Safety Code) shall not be prosecuted under this section.

(Note: Assembly Member Bonta later dropped off as a sponsor of the legislation.)

 Under current law, the focus is on a terminally-ill patient’s own request and is self-administered. The author of the bill states that this is simply “clean up” legislation that will exempt the person who prepares the drug from criminal liability which are authorized under the 2015 act.

Despite the author’s claim in the analyses that this act would still require all the protections afforded terminally ill patients who are considering suicide including diagnosis, voluntary expression of a a wish, and physical and mental ability to self-administer the drug, AB 282 goes beyond the term “deliberately aids” to include “advises or encourages.”

This addition of language, in a separate section, could open the door to family members, or those paying for care, to try to convince the terminally ill to request physician-assisted suicide. End of life care is costly, terminally ill people tend to be emotionally depressed, and this vulnerability could easily be exploited for personal gain.

This bill is overly broad and would conflict with California’s suicide prevention policies.

On August 6, 2018 the bill passed the Assembly and is expected to be acted on by the Governor.

 
 

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