Wednesday, 29 March 2023

End-of-life information bill heads for full Senate vote

SACRAMENTO – Two state Senate policy committees have approved a bill by Assemblywoman Patty Berg and Assemblyman Lloyd Levine that would require doctors to answer their terminally ill patients’ questions about dying.


The state Assembly already approved AB 2747 by a 42-34 vote on May 28. The bill now heads to a vote of the full Senate.


The bill, which had effectively been stalled by religious and professional groups, reportedly gained new momentum late Wednesday when a series of last-minute hallway negotiations prompted the Catholic Church to drop its opposition.


Once Catholic representatives and a group of oncologists were satisfied that the bill was not an endorsement of assisted suicide, Assembly Bill 2747 was approved in both the Senate Health Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.


“This bill is about information, plain and simple,” said Berg, D-Eureka, who drew a firestorm of controversy in recent years for her attempts to enact an Oregon-style Death With Dignity law in California. “This bill does not make anything legal that isn’t legal now. But it does say that you can’t keep a patient in the dark just because you’re uncomfortable talking about dying.”


Opponents had been leery of AB 2747, which they feared could be a stalking horse for another attempt at allowing patients to control their own dying.


Californians Against Assisted Suicide, a group that opposes the bill, say it's another attempt by Berg and Levine to get an assisted suicide bill passed. Berg and Levine's Compassionate Choices Act legislation has failed over the past three years.


In staff analysis of the bill, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund argued against AB 2747, saying “the information and timeframes set forth in the bill are not always medically or legally appropriate, and the bill fails to require that information be provided to surrogates or family members when appropriate.” The group also argued that that medical prognoses often are wrong and physicians can't be sure when patients will die.


Berg's office reported that she overcame uncertainty about the bill by amending it to remove mention of the existing medical practice of palliative sedation, in which patients are kept under continual sedation while they die.


She also took a number of minor, clarifying amendments designed to make clear that the bill had nothing to do with her previous efforts on Death With Dignity.


“I think we’re finally getting to a place where we can put patients first,” said Berg. “What we’re talking about is the right to be informed.”


In testimony, Berg pointed to a recent study funded the federal government which found that patients who were told what to expect in their final days fared better during the dying process than those who received no such information.


The study said informed patients were less likely to be depressed, more likely to receive hospice care; and their families were better able to deal with their deaths than the uninformed.


The study also pointed out that only one in three terminally ill patients were likely to receive thorough information about their conditions. Berg’s bill aims to turn those numbers around, at least in California.


Among supporters of the bill are the California Medical Association, the California Psychological Association, California Nurses Association, California Commission on Aging, AIDS Project Los Angeles and Conference of California Seniors.


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