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The “Death” of Death with Dignity in California

July 30, 2015

2015 has seen some landmark legal judgments. Not only did SCOTUS uphold the Affordable Care Act, but it also legalized same-sex marriage across all 50 states. But as touchy as issues of healthcare and homosexuality are in America, there’s one right that won’t be getting its day in California’s courts: the right to die. In June 2015, the End of Life Option Act made it out of the state senate on a mostly party-line vote, but it stalled the following month in the Assembly Health Committee, a group made up of 19 members. Here’s what to know about California’s legal battle on the right-to-die front.

The bill

When deciding how to frame SB 128, the bill’s sponsors, Sens. Bill Monning and Lois Wolk, looked north, to Oregon. Since 1994, Oregon has had death-with-dignity laws in place that have allowed some 750 residents to end their life on their own terms. The California bill would have had the same effect, allowing doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to patients who met certain criteria, such as being mentally competent and having less than six months to live.

The Maynard factor

Many in California thought public perception had softened on the right-to-die issue due to widely viewed YouTube videos from Brittany Maynard. Maynard, a 29 year old woman diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2014, not only posted videos advocating death with dignity laws, but she also petitioned Gov. Brown on the matter. With no movement on the issue, Maynard moved to Oregon during the last weeks of her life so she could obtain access to life-ending medication.

The stall

Despite polls showing most Californians favor assisted suicide, it was easy to pinpoint why the bill didn’t make it out of committee: religion. The Roman Catholic Church mounted a lobbying campaign against the bill, and many Assembly Health Committee members represent highly Latino districts. These communities tend to be predominantly Catholic.

Where California goes from here

Just because the bill stagnated doesn’t mean the right-to-die issue is done. Lawmakers will probably take up the fight again next year. And as more time passes, momentum seems to be on the side of right-to-die advocates. After all, the California Medical Association now embraces aid-in-dying legislation after decades of opposition.

In the end, advocates of death with dignity view the matter as a right to choice. Opponents, on the other hand, mostly reject the issue on religious grounds, citing that it’s against God’s Will for a person to take his or her own life. Whether the Catholic Church can soften their stance on the matter might just determine the fate of assisted dying in California.


Larry Bellomo is a Laguna Hills bankruptcy and family lawyer who has been serving the local communities for over 34 years. Come in, call or e-mail for your free, no-obligation consultation today.