California lawmakers have advanced a right-to-die bill, a key step forward for those who want the nation's most populous state to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives under a doctor's care.
The state Senate passed the measure on a 23 to 14 vote Thursday, ahead of a legislative deadline. The measure heads to the Assembly.
The proposal comes nearly a decade after similar legislation failed and two weeks after the California Medical Association, or CMA, dropped its 28-year stand against physician aid in dying. The organization said it was "officially neutral" on the bill.
The issue gained renewed attention after the well-publicized story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old San Francisco Bay Area woman who moved with her family to Oregon and ended her life in November. Oregon allows terminally ill patients to die using lethal medications prescribed by a doctor. Maynard, who was suffering from brain cancer, argued in online videos and national media appearances that she should have had the right to die in California.
Right-to-die legislation failed in the California in 2007 over objections from Catholic and medical groups.
The bill by Democratic state Sen. Bill Monning would protect physicians from criminal prosecution for providing terminally ill adults with the option of medical aid in dying.
Opponents say some patients may feel pressured to end their lives if doctors are allowed to prescribe fatal medication. Religious groups have condemned aid-in-dying legislation as against God's will.
Monning is among three Democratic lawmakers who, along with Maynard's family, have to promoted right-to-die legislation in California. It would be limited to mentally competent patients with less than six months to live and requires they take deadly medication themselves without help from a doctor.
His bill is modeled off of Oregon's law, which was approved by voters in 1994. Since then, 752 people ended their lives through the law, according to Oregon state statistics.
Compassion & Choices, which advocates for right-to-die laws, said there are currently 24 states and the District of Columbia considering right-to-die legislation. The group is also considering taking the issue before California voters in 2016.