California moves to streamline assisted death law for terminally ill patients

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 27: The dome and exterior of the State Capitol building is viewed on January 27, 2015, in Sacramento, California. 

California lawmakers moved Friday to extend and streamline an assisted death law, reducing the time until terminal patients can acquire the fatal drugs.

The current minimum 15-day waiting period required between the time patients make separate oral requests for medication would be reduced to 48 hours. The bill would also eliminate a requirement that a patient make a final written attestation within 48 hours of taking the medication.

"It became clear that some well-intentioned aspects of the law serve as barriers for terminally ill patients who seek aid in dying," Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood said.

Plenty of safeguards remain in the bill, he and other proponents said.

The law that took effect in June 2016 had been set to expire in another five years, but the bill would keep it in place until 2031.

More than 2,800 people have received a prescription since the law took effect, Wood said, of which more than 1,800 died from the drugs.

"There have been no reported cases or instances of abuse or coercion," he said.

The state Assembly advanced the bill Friday on a 47-14 vote, and the Senate agreed on a 26-8 roll call. That sent it to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his consideration. No lawmakers spoke in opposition.

However, Disability Rights California and the California Catholic Conference opposed the bill, citing inequities in the health care system that harm people with disabilities, the aging, and Black and Latino residents.

The measure can subtly pressure people who fear "becoming a financial or emotional burden to their families," the Catholic Conference said.

"A bad day should not result in a death sentence," said the disabilities group.

"This bill is not about helping people die. It is about allowing people dignity and reducing suffering at the end of an unwinnable fight," Democratic Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry said.

Earlier this year, New Mexico reduced its waiting period to 48 hours, she said.