State senators heard testimony today on a proposed bill that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it. The testimony included a video from Brittany Maynard recorded 19 days before she took life-ending drugs.

In the video, Maynard implored California lawmakers to legalize “aid in dying.” Maynard, who had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, took lethal medication last year in Oregon, where the practice is legal.

“The decision about how I end my dying process should be up to me and my family under a doctor’s care. How dare the government make decisions or limit options for terminally ill people like me. Unfortunately, California law prevented me from getting the end-of life-option I deserved,” said Maynard, who died Nov. 1 at age 29.

Several people testified against the bill, including doctors who said the practice was incompatible with a physician’s role as a healer and warned that evidence from Belgium and the Netherlands, where physician-assisted suicide has been legal since 2002, showed that restrictions and safeguards meant to protect against abuse were difficult to enforce.

Disability rights advocates emphasized this point, arguing some people’s lives would be ended without their consent, through mistakes or abuse.

“It’s a ‘deadly mix’ to combine our broken health care system and assisted suicide, which would instantly become the cheapest treatment,” said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. “Direct coercion is not even necessary. If insurers deny, or even merely delay, expensive, life-sustaining treatment, patients are steered toward hastening their deaths. Do we think insurers will do the right thing, or the cheap thing?”

Besides Oregon, the practice is legal in four other states: Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington.

Advocates for aid-in-dying laws say legislators in at least 17 states have introduced similar measures this year. However, proposals in at least four states have already stalled for the year, and many have not yet received a hearing.

In the video, Maynard said people asked her if she had explored palliative sedation, a practice where the patient is given sedative drugs continuously until passing naturally, as an alternative to life-ending drugs. But Maynard said she found that option terrifying.

“I may be minimally conscious, still suffering and unable to move or speak,” she said.

Maynard’s husband, Dan Diaz, who introduced the video at the hearing, said that he respects those who disagree with him and his wife, but that aid in dying should be an option for all Californians.

“Even the staunchest of opponents might say, ‘Well, I may not use it, but I would certainly want the option,'” Diaz said as he choked back tears.

The Senate Health Committee voted 6-2 to approve the bill Wednesday. The bill moves next to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing on April 7.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Author

April Dembosky

April Dembosky is the health reporter for The California Report and KQED News. She covers health policy and public health, and has reported extensively on the economics of health care, the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act in California, mental health and end-of-life issues.

Her work is regularly rebroadcast on NPR and has been recognized with awards from the Society for Professional Journalists (for sports reporting), and the Association of Health Care Journalists (for a story about pediatric hospice). Her hour-long radio documentary about home funerals won the Best New Artist award from the Third Coast International Audio Festival in 2009.

April occasionally moonlights on the arts beat, covering music and dance. Her story about the first symphony orchestra at Burning Man won the award for Best Use of Sound from the Public Radio News Directors Inc.

Before joining KQED in 2013, April covered technology and Silicon Valley for The Financial Times, and freelanced for Marketplace and The New York Times. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Smith College.

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