California moves to eliminate assisted suicide safeguards

euthanasia, physician-assisted death, assisted suicide, California

California lawmakers approved legislation on Friday that would remove some of the safeguards currently in place for people who wish to commit assisted suicide. According to the Los Angeles Times, SB 380 would both simplify and speed up the process for terminally ill people who wish to obtain lethal drugs.

Assisted suicide was first legalized in the state in 2015. Currently, the law requires the terminally ill patient who wishes to die to make two verbal requests to a physician at least 15 days apart, and one formal written request that is signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses before taking the lethal drugs.

While these provisions are safeguards to ensure that only those of sound mind (and without coercion) are allowed assisted suicide, State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman says that they are too time-consuming. “The current process is very difficult sometimes, especially for people at the end stages of life, and unnecessarily cumbersome and with many roadblocks to being able to use it,” she said. “Oftentimes people will die in exactly the way they feared dying before they are able to use the law.”

READ: Bioethicist slams California for considering assisted suicide for those with dementia

The new legislation aims to make it easier for people to get lethal drugs sooner. It reduces the 15-day waiting period between the verbal requests to just 48 hours and eliminates the final, written request, which Eggman had referred to as “offensive.”

The measure was strongly opposed by several groups, including Disability Rights California, the California Family Council, and the California Catholic Conference. “SB 380 lacks sufficient consumer safeguards and has the potential to undermine the safety of people with disabilities,” said Sawait Seyoum of Disability Rights California, according to the LA Times.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of the San Jose diocese decried how the legislation would affect minorities in an op-ed published in Mercury News:

Lack of funding exasperates the problems many minorities and vulnerable populations already have in receiving basic health care. It reduces the quality of life for those who can’t get care for routine, treatable medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. And it reduces options at the end of life for palliative and hospice care.

But perhaps worst of all, SB 380 … sends a dangerous message to minorities and vulnerable populations: It costs too much to care for you but California has another ‘option’ you might consider.

No minority demands that.

Bishop Cantu later said, “How we care for the sick and dying speaks volumes about who we are as a people. Californians need to ask ourselves if the health care ‘choices’ we offer to our people affirm the value of their lives or tell them they no longer matter.”

The bill next moves to the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom for his consideration. If he signs it into law, it will go into effect on January 1, 2022.

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