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The Riggs Report: Aid-in-dying bill hits religious roadblock

Catholic Church’s opposition stalls controversial measure

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCRA) —The Catholic Church’s political muscle proved decisive this week in the fate of a hotly-debated bill to allow the dying in California to speed their deaths with physician-prescribed drugs.

SB128 had already passed the Senate. And, significantly, the California Medical Association had gone neutral on the bill, removing its long-held opposition to such measures.

But when the measure reached the Assembly Health Committee, it was apparent to the authors, Senators Bill Monning and Lois Wolk that they didn’t have the votes to go the distance.

Rather than see the bill die, the authors pulled it from the agenda. SB 128 will now become what is called a two-year bill, meaning that it won’t come up for votes again until next year.

That gives backers more time to round up support in the Assembly. It’s also entirely possible that the legislation could re-surface this summer as part of an entirely different bill. It’s a process known as “gut and amend” that allows bills to gain new life by being inserted into a stripped-down shell.

There’s a lot of criticism of this technique, since it’s not exactly a model of transparency, but it hasn’t stopped the practice. The bill’s authors released a joint statement, saying in part, “We have chosen not to present SB 128, the End of Life Option Act, today in the Assembly Health Committee. We continue to work with Assembly Members to ensure they are comfortable with the bill.”

The backers had hoped the momentum they received this year from the poignant story of Brittany Maynard would prove to be decisive. She’s the young San Francisco woman who, suffering from brain cancer, moved to Oregon last year in order to use that state’s right-to-die law to take her life.

Maynard’s family was active at the Capitol in support of passing SB128, which was modeled on the Oregon law.

The Catholic Church was by no means the only opponent. Groups representing the disabled and the Medical Oncology Association were also opposed. But the Church and associated groups, such as the California Catholic Conference, were effective in raising questions about potential abuse and whether enough protections were included in the legislation.

In the end, those questions proved to be too much to overcome in the Health Committee. The bill remains stalled, at least in 2015, but the end to this story remains unwritten.