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08 Jan 2016

The Right to Die Remains: An Attempt to Ask Voters to Repeal California's New Assisted-Suicide Law Fails

Written by  Sara Rubin
A story on the assisted-suicide movement appeared on the cover of the March 2015 print edition of the Independent. A story on the assisted-suicide movement appeared on the cover of the March 2015 print edition of the Independent.

A divided California Legislature passed a law in September allowing terminally ill patients to seek a prescription to end their lives—and now, some in a divided California are looking at ways to overturn that law.

The first attempt was a ballot initiative by the groups Seniors Against Suicide and the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, which would have given voters a choice to overturn the End-of-Life Option Act in November 2016. Their deadline to collect 365,880 voter signatures was Monday, and group spokesman Brian Johnston says they came up short.

“It’s an arduous process,” he says of signature-gathering.

The California Secretary of State will not have a report on the signature count until next week; each county has eight business days to do a rough count of signatures before submitting them to the state, which will then verify the signatures if a measure looks like it has sufficient support to make it onto the ballot.

Johnston says opponents will continue battling the law. 

“The referendum was only the first opportunity,” he says.

An alternate plan may focus on legal action, because the bill was passed in an extraordinary session on health. Critics have said this was a misuse of an extraordinary session, which is intended to focus on a narrow issue, giving lawmakers a chance to hammer out policy after the regular legislative session has ended.

The original bill was introduced by state senators Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Lois Wolk, D-Davis. They withdrew it when it was unclear whether the bill had sufficient support to make it through various committees. It was reintroduced as ABx2-15 in the extraordinary session.

The law—which will expire in 10 years if not extended—will allow adult patients who are mentally competent and have a terminal illness, with a prognosis of six months or less to live, to seek a lethal prescription, with a requirement to see two separate doctors.

When Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill in October, he weighed in with his own questions about the ethics of ending a life.

“I have discussed this matter with a Catholic bishop, two of my own doctors and former classmates and friends who take varied, contradictory and nuanced positions,” Brown wrote.

“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the Monterey County Weekly.

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