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End-of-life rights bill OKd

August 21, 2008|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Doctors who diagnose people with terminal illnesses would be required to immediately tell them about the right to refuse or withdraw from life-sustaining treatment under a measure approved Wednesday by state lawmakers.

The proposal, which divided the medical community, was narrowly approved on the same day the Legislature passed a bid to ban employers from taking action against workers who legally use marijuana for medical purposes.

The right-to-die legislation would require a doctor at the time of a terminal diagnosis to explain all options, when requested by the patient.

If you have been diagnosed as dying, you have a right to ask questions and a right to have them answered, said Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica). "Right now, all too often, your questions are brushed aside," she said.

She called the bill, AB 2747 by Assemblywoman Patty Berg (D-Eureka), a "very modest" proposal.

However, Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley), an oral surgeon, said many physicians who treat cancer patients oppose the latest bill as government meddling at a time when patients need compassion.

"What they don't need is another governmental intrusion into the relationship between themselves and their doctor," Aanestad said.

Some of the options that would be explained may not be needed at the time of diagnosis or even for three or four years, he said.

Requiring patients to immediately receive "a laundry list developed by Sacramento politicians" may lead to rash decisions to hasten death of depressed patients before all treatment is attempted, he said.

The Senate passed the bill 21 to 17.

It was supported by groups including the California Medical Assn., AIDS Project Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union. Opponents included Catholic Healthcare West, California ProLife Council and Northridge Hospital Medical Center.

The bill will go back to the Assembly for approval of minor amendments before it is sent to the governor.

The medical marijuana bill, AB 2279 by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), addresses a state Supreme Court decision that found that state law is not clear in dealing with employees who legally use marijuana for medical purposes.

The Senate also approved a bill that would bar motorists from driving with pets in their laps. AB 2233 passed 21 to 17.

The Senate also gave the nod to legislation that would allow the state Department of Mental Health to ban smoking at state mental hospitals. AB 3010 was approved 29 to 6.

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patrick.mcgreevy @latimes.com

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