A terminally-ill resident of a hospice is comforted in her bed.

After the highly publicized death of Brittany Maynard, the California woman who moved to Oregon to end her life legally, California lawmakers have unveiled a bill to allow physician-assisted death for terminally ill patients. The bill legalizes the prescription of fatal medications to mentally competent patients with less than six months to live. We look at what this latest bill means for California and the debate over the right to die.

KQED Newsroom recently discussed Brittany Maynard and end-of-life choices:

Guests:
April Dembosky, KQED health reporter
Toni Broaddus, California campaign director for Compassion & Choices
Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), which opposes the legalization of assisted suicide
David Magnus, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and professor of medicine, biomedical ethics and pediatrics at Stanford University

  • ES Trader

    We are a society governed by the Constitution which guarantees individual rights.

    Why should moral or religious taboos prevent anyone from ending their life in a peaceful, painless manner ?

    The stress that Brittany Maynard experienced of leaving her home and moving to Oregon is unnecessary.and should not be solely for “terminally ill”, include the disabled and elderly struggling everyday.

    It is neither government nor society’s role to determine when and if one is born nor when one dies.

  • Sean Dennehy

    I don’t understand how this can be abused against the elderly. Taking this medicine would kill the person. What can a greedy heir coerce or threaten someone with that would make one take his/her own life?

  • Sanfordia113

    There is a very strong case that it is a conflict of interest for physicians to be practicing euthanasia. Why do MDs need to be involved in this decision? We have many natural peaceful options thatcould be availed to people. In the Bay Area, the Golden Gate comes to mind as a site that deserves legislative protection for self-euthanasia rights. Could the guests comment on such options?

    Could the guests aldo comment on insurance, probate and other legsl issues are impacted by legalized euthanasia?

    • Tandem Bear

      They’re involved because they’re professionals providing health care, diagnosis and educated health care information to patients. How will you know you only have six months to live if you don’t get a dependable diagnosis – or three?

      Doctors do not administer the drug. That’s an important distinction.

      If we can make adult, rational decisions about our pets dying with compassion and dignity, we should be able to offer at least the same to human beings!

      • ES Trader

        No one knows for certain how much time is left but wouldn’t it be “at peace” to have an opportunity to say good-bye to people and places formally instead of having it “stolen “?

  • Tandem Bear

    The guest going on and on about patients getting “lethal drugs” needs to understand that any law-abiding adult can purchase a firearm in ten minutes legally, borrow one legally, or pick one up anywhere illegally and quickly commit suicide.

    To be against this legislation is simply cruel. It has PLENTY of safeguards to prevent abuse and murder – and again, if people want to kill someone, it’s REALLY easy to do with a gun or car (especially a car – you won’t even be prosecuted!!!).

    CA NEEDS TO PASS THIS LEGISLATION!

  • Chris OConnell

    I fully support disability rights and think, for example, that the Americans with Disabilities Act is a great thing. It makes me proud to be an American. I hate how many advocates, if not all of the leaders, want to trample on everyone else’s rights out of an unwarranted fear that the disabled will be euthanized.

  • Sam Badger

    Of course, everything which is legal can be abused. Legal protections for the accused can be abused, free speech can be abused, any freedom can be abused. I don’t see how the prospect of abuse can justify the state to force people to live, however. It’s nuts that California hasn’t passed such a law already.

    • Tandem Bear

      Couldn’t agree more.

      As I said below, we offer compassion and dignity to our pets when they’re suffering a terminal illness, but we can’t for people? That’s insane.

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    So grateful this important topic is coming up for civil debate and enlightened legislation.

    In the land of the free, it really does make no sense for the people to hang on to public policies flatly barring the right of an individual to die a little sooner, with much less pain and far less cost to society.

    Forcing people, in effect, to live absolutely as long as possible is not only cruel to those who would choose otherwise in spite of proper precautions, it is cruel to those who continue to suffer and remain unproductive in earlier years when greater public resources, more properly allocated, could have prevented or alleviated pain and accelerated recoveries.

    Allowing for deliberate end-of-life choices that are not unduly hasty or coerced by anyone — far from being abusive — has the potential to end a form of abuse that was particularly ironic, insidious, and unintentionally cruel.

  • ES Trader

    the guests arguing against are simply trying to impose their will, based on religious, philosophical or delusion, on others,

    If I don’t want to eat broccoli, no one has the right to insist and force me to because of its nutritional qualities; it is my decision not to !

    • Curious

      “If I don’t want to eat broccoli, no one has the right to insist and force me to because of its nutritional qualities; it is my decision not to !”

      Actually, Obama and the left are taking that choice away from you.

  • The issue of palliative care is something that also needs to be carefully discussed within the medical community. Because of the epidemic of sometimes fatal prescription opiate abuse, and the excessive pressure from the DEA, so many doctors, even pain specialists for terminal patients, have become resistant to prescribing enough opiate medication to truly relieve pain.

    My roommate’s mother died from bone cancer/multiple myeloma last year, and her last two months were spent in a state of unrelieved and horrendous pain and suffering that can only be categorized as medical torture and abuse. The doctor in charge of her palliative care–a specialist whose sole job it is to help terminal patients manage high levels of pain–outright refused to give her the levels of opiates she needed to be comfortable.

    She had been taking high doses of various opiate meds for almost 3 years as she fought this very painful disease, and had developed quite a tolerance. The doctor kept insisting that the dose she was on–one that left her literally gasping in pain, unable to sleep, and so uncomfortable that she was reduced to an almost feral level of existence–was as high as he would go. My roommate found a stash of oral pain meds left over from her past pre-terminal treatments, and over 24 hours, titrated upwards a dose that finally gave her relief. He approached the doctor with this info, and the doctor nearly bit his head off, telling him that doses that high were “for druggies” and that he would not “support drug abuse”. Simply astounding.

    He also lectured my roommate on watching for signs of “abuse”–in a terminal patient, mind you! One of the side effects of opiates is mood-enhancement and euphoria, which actually helps relieve the suffering/mental aspect of dealing with high levels of constant pain. But this doctor considered euphoria to be “getting loaded”, and refused to prescribe a dose that was high enough to cause this effect. The relaxed, calming effects of a correct pain med dose was such a huge relief for this woman who was enduring excruciating levels of constant, unending pain that no being should ever experience–she said she no longer felt like a human being, but like an animal.

    My roommate fought for weeks with the HMO to get a new palliative care doctor, and during the last 4 days of her life, she finally got a new doctor who gave her the right amounts of the correct drug (the other doc didn’t even get the correct type of opiate for her pain right!), and she had 4 relaxing days before she passed away.

    I know that doctors are liable to malpractice and even criminal charges due to the current stance of the DEA: (over)zealous enforcement of opiate prescriptions. But this type of heinous maltreatment of a very vulnerable and powerless patient seems to be a larger crime than, say, doctor-shopping. I was troubled and angered whilst watching this happen, and I hope that I never have a loved one have to endure such abuse.

    • Tandem Bear

      Thank you for sharing. How horrible.

      It seems to me that the legal community has decided that over-dosing a patient one day before that patient experiences “natural” death is FAR worse than the relief that patient would have felt for the months or even years up to that point.

      So the result is let a terminally ill patient languish in excruciating pain for months to guarantee that patient NEVER overdose. It’s sentencing a person to a longer life, but at a horrible cost.

  • Curious

    If only we would re-visit the right to live.

  • MilkisPoison .

    Although much is being made of official opposition by CMA, it should be mentioned that the leading physicians group, California Association of Physicians Groups, which includes big health care companies such as Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente and corporate sponsors such as Blue Shield, Aetna, as well as American and German drug companies, is a leading advocate of PAS. Could these powerful economic interests be quietly exerting their influence behind the scene to pass PAS (what is their role in the media campaign)?

    What is their real interest in seeing that PAS gets passed? Is it really about compassion, or is cost containment a factor?

    One question that wasn t brought up in the panel is how PAS may eventually look like in the state once it becomes institutionalized in the medical establishment by the corporate powers that be. It may look a lot different than it does now in Oregon.

    Personally, giving doctors the right to prescribe suicide pills( along with some legal immunity to boot) scares the hell out of me. A compromise would be to let the suicide drugs be legal or easier to get. Why are doctors needed if the patient requesting the drug is of sound mind, as was Mrs Maynard? It is not the suicide so much as the assisted part that is concerning.

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