California Senate Committee Rejects Measure to Legalize Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 28, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

California Senate Committee Rejects Measure to Legalize Assisted Suicide Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 28, 2006

Sacramento, CA ( — A California state Senate committee has rejected a measure that would make the state the second, following Oregon, to legalize assisted suicide. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday against the measure, meaning the legislation is dead for the rest of the legislative session.

The committee was dominated 3-2 by Democrats. Republican Sen. Tom Harman of Huntington Beach opposed the measure and committee chairman Sen. Joe Dunn, a Democrat from Santa Ana, joined him to defeat the proposal.

Democratic Sens. Martha Escutia of Whittier and Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica voted for the bill but it died on a 2-2 vote. Sen. Bill Morrow, an Oceanside Republican, was not present for the vote but he opposes the bill as well.

The measure would have allowed doctors to prescribe lethal barbiturates for patients who are declared terminally ill and have less than six months to live. Patients would have had to undergo psychological examinations and waited two weeks after the request to take the drugs.

Dunn said he opposed the bill because he worried lawmakers would come back in future legislative sessions and expand assisted suicide by allowing patients who are not terminally ill to kill themselves as well.

"I could not resolve the risk that the power of money would ultimately define the parameters," said Dunn. "And so with heavy heart today, I will be a ‘no’ vote."

A coalition of groups including doctors organizations, disability activists, Hispanic organizations and pro-life groups banded together to oppose the measure.

Marilyn Golden, policy analyst with the Disability Rights, Education and Defense Fund, told the Los Angeles Times, "I’m just very, very glad that Sen. Dunn is not as naive as the proponents to think that assisted suicide could operate without corporate- and profit-related pressures from health insurers, from the rest of the healthcare industry, whether public or private."

Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, one of the lead sponsors of AB 651, said "We’ll keep fighting," according to a Times report.

This is the second time legislation to legalize assisted suicide there has failed. Last year a measure to legalize the grisly practice received the backing of two Assembly committees but did not have enough votes in the full Assembly so it never came up for a vote.

Even if the state legislature signs off on the assisted suicide bill, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in January he would veto it.

He thinks voters in the state should make the decision, not the state legislature.

"I personally think this is a decision probably that should go to the people, like the death penalty and other big issues," the governor said. "I don’t think 120 legislators and I should make the decision. I think the people should make the decision, and whatever that is, that is what it ought to be."

Barbara Coombs Lee, executive director of the pro-euthanasia Compassion & Choices, lobbied for the measure but said her group would not try again to pass a measure. She also told the Times that a statewide initiative wouldn’t be feasible.

A ballot measure would be "much too expensive, much too inflammatory," she said.

Thirteen years ago, California voters disapproved an assisted suicide ballot proposal. Voters rejected Proposition 161 by a 54% to 46% margin.

Nationally, an August 2005 Pew Research survey found only 44 percent of people "Favor making it legal for doctors to Assist in suicide." A May 2005 Gallup Poll found a close 49-42 percent split in favor of assisted suicide and a November 2004 CBS News survey determined that Americans were split 46-45 percent on the issue.

Related web sites:
California state legislature –
Californians Against Assisted Suicide –
California Pro-Life Council –