July 7, 2015 / 8:55 PM / 4 years ago

California assisted suicide bill stalls before committee

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A contentious physician-assisted suicide bill that would allow some terminally ill patients in California to legally obtain medication to end their lives has stalled, state lawmakers said on Tuesday, amid staunch opposition from religious leaders.

Democratic state Senator Bill Monning, who co-authored the bill, said it was not presented to the state Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday as scheduled after passing the Senate last month.

“We are continuing to work with the Committee members to ensure that when the bill is presented, they are comfortable with the measure,” Monning said in a statement, adding that they would continue to push for the bill.

The bill faced strong opposition from the Roman Catholic Church as well as some advocates for the elderly and the disabled, who said it could lead vulnerable people to end their lives prematurely.

Democratic Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, who is on the health committee, said his opposition stemmed from his background in healthcare.

“To me it’s not what healthcare is about,” he said. “For me to go back on everything I’ve done and give that option, so to speak, is something I’m not comfortable with.”

Based on a physician-assisted suicide statute approved by Oregon voters in 1994, the bill would offer a competent and terminally ill adult the right to request medication to aid in death in the most populous U.S. state.

It would require a determination from two doctors that a patient had six months or less to live, two separate requests presented by the patient to an attending physician and testimony from two witnesses about the patient’s wish to die.

Participation by doctors and pharmacists would be voluntary, and the bill would make it a felony to pressure people into ending their lives or forging a request.

The right-to-die movement gained momentum last year when Brittany Maynard, 29, moved from California to Oregon to end her life after she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

Maynard became a high-profile advocate for assisted suicide and was featured on the cover of People magazine before she ended her life last November.

The California Medical Association in May dropped its decades-long opposition to the idea.

Lawmakers in the public health committee of Colorado’s House of Representatives voted down a similar assisted suicide bill there in February, after 10 hours of emotional testimony and debate.

Oregon, Montana, Washington state and Vermont allow some form of assisted suicide.

Editing by Eric Walsh

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