The mother of a young woman whose battle with brain cancer drew widespread attention to her desire to legally end her life with prescribed drugs in California appeared Wednesday in the state Capitol to push for aid-in-dying legislation.
Debbie Ziegler said that lawmakers should honor her daughter, Brittany Maynard, by passing a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives in California with drugs and dosages prescribed by a doctor.
The practice is legal in five states, including Oregon, where Maynard moved before ending her life on Nov. 1. The 29-year-old San Francisco Bay Area woman publicized her efforts to die on her own terms on social media, and her YouTube videos garnered tens of millions of views.
Advocates for aid-in-dying laws say Maynard's story has recharged legislative efforts across the nation. Similar bills have been introduced in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Washington, D.C., and are being considered in New York and Colorado.
Such proposals, however, have foundered in statehouses for years amid emotionally charged debates and strong opposition. Some medical groups say prescribing life-ending medication violates a doctor's oath to do no harm, while some advocates for persons with disabilities fear some sick patients would feel pressured to end their lives to avoid being a financial burden.
It's too early to predict how the newly introduced California bill will fare. Lawmakers expect the proposal to face a strong challenge, led by medical and religious groups. Advocates said they would consider taking the issue to voters if it fails in the Legislature.
A debate in the California Assembly last year illustrated the volatility of discussions on end-of-life topics. A bill that would have required doctors to discuss palliative and hospice care with gravely ill patients drew an emotional debate. Lawmakers' voices broke as they spoke about relatives who outlived doctor's expectations and others struggled describing loved ones who suffered agonizing pain before their deaths. The bill passed after a lengthy fight.
"It's personal for people, people argue it from their heart,'' said Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, a Stockton Democrat who authored that bill and is co-authoring the new measure. "Everybody should have the ability at the end of their life to have as much say-so over what they want to happen as possible.''
Opponents, however, see huge consequences for allowing doctors to prescribe fatal drugs.
"Legalizing assisted suicide is a deadly mix with our broken cost driven cost system,'' said Marilyn Golden, policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. "You have to consider all the people who can be harmed, not just a small number of people who may be helped.''