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Lacking Votes, Calif. Assembly Shelves Aid-In-Dying Bill

Backers of a bill that would have allowed terminally ill Californians to get lethal prescriptions to end their lives shelved the legislation Tuesday morning because they lacked the votes to move it out of a key committee.

The End of Life Option Act, had already cleared the state Senate, but faced opposition in the Assembly Health Committee.

Among those expected to vote against the bill were a group of southern California Democrats, almost all of whom are Latino, after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles increased its lobbying  efforts. Church officials argued that some poor residents could feel pressured into ending their lives prematurely if they couldn’t afford expensive medical treatment. Disability rights advocates have also fought against the legislation.

“We continue to work with Assembly members to ensure they are comfortable with the bill,” said a joint statement from Sens. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Bill Monning, D-Monterey, and Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton. “For dying Californians like Jennifer Glass, who was scheduled to testify today, this issue is urgent. We remain committed to passing the End of Life Option Act for all Californians who want and need the option of medical aid in dying.”

Under the bill, mentally competent adults who are terminally ill with less than six months to live could request lethal medication from a physician.

“We’re going to review our options,” Monning said in an interview later. “We walk away from the decision today knowing that we’re going to have to spend more time cultivating our colleagues in the Assembly.”

The aid-in-dying issue was brought home to Californians last year after 29-year-old resident Brittany Maynard moved to Oregon so she could get a lethal prescription under that state’s death with dignity law. Maynard was terminally ill with brain cancer and died last November. A video she recorded 19 days before she took life-ending drugs was shown at a Senate hearing in March.

Last month, a poll found that 69 percent of Californians and 70 percent of Latinos supported the bill. The poll was conducted by the advocacy group Compassion and Choices.

The bill also got a boost after the California Medical Association changed its stance from opposed to neutral.

It was modeled after a 1994 Oregon law that permits aid in dying. Four other states — Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico — have similar laws.

This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, KQED and Kaiser Health News.

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