California lawmakers renew push to pass right-to-die bill

FILE - In this March 25, 2015, file photo, a portrait of Brittany Maynard sits on the dias of the Senate Health Committee at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., as lawmakers took testimony on proposed legislation allowing doctors to prescribe life ending medication to terminally ill patients.

SACRAMENTO (KRON/AP) — State lawmakers on Tuesday announced a new push to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives. It’s the latest chapter in a movement recently galvanized by the case of a 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved out of the state to legally take her life.

Facing opposition from religious groups, the bill that would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs stalled before the Assembly Health Committee earlier this year, after passing in the Senate.

But on Tuesday, the bill was renewed by legislators in a special session on health care convened by Gov. Jerry Brown. “Californians should have more options available to those suffering constantly other than moving to other states or living in constant pain,” Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said at a press conference.

The earlier bill stalled in the Assembly committee, after Sens. Lois Wolk of Davis and Bill Monning of Carmel could not get support from fellow Democrats on the panel who lost parents to cancer and who were uncomfortable with allowing patients to kill themselves. The new bill would bypass that committee.

The latest move on the controversial issue comes after at least two dozen states have introduced aid-in-dying legislation this year, though none has passed a bill. Doctors already are allowed to prescribe life-ending drugs in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana.

The highly publicized case of cancer patient Brittany Maynard has helped bring the right-to-die movement to the legislative forefront in California. Maynard, who moved to Oregon to legally take her life, argued in widely viewed online videos that she should have been able to access life-ending drugs in her home state.

Religious groups and advocates for people with disabilities have battled California’s right-to-die bill, saying it goes against the will of God and puts terminally ill patients at risk for coerced death.

Debbie Ziegler, Maynard’s mother, criticized religious groups, including the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, that have been lobbying against the bill.

“What right does anyone of a specific religious faith have to say I should act in accordance with their fate in my death?” she said.

Advocates also have turned to courts, where they faced recent defeats in New Mexico and San Diego, where the judge said the issue should be resolved by state lawmakers.

Elizabeth Wallner, a single mother with Stage 4 colon cancer who filed the San Diego lawsuit, urged lawmakers to allow people like her to have a peaceful death at home.

“I don’t want my son’s last image to be of me struggling and in pain,” she said.

Gov. Brown called the special session to address funding shortfalls for programs providing health insurance to the poor and home health aides, but lawmakers are using the Tuesday session to advance other contentious legislation related to health care.

The right-to-die advocacy group Compassion and Choices has said it would attempt to qualify a 2016 ballot measure if they lose in the Legislature.

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Follow Fenit Nirappil on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/FenitN .

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