A medical group that has long opposed doctor-assisted death has reversed course and dropped its opposition to the practice, saying the decision should be up to the patient and physician.
The California Medical Association, which represents more than 40,000 physicians in the Golden State, removed language from its internal policies referring to end-of-life options as "physician-assisted suicide." The group also walked back its opposition to a California bill that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients after the bill's sponsors added additional protections for doctors and hospitals who do not wish to provide such options.
"As physicians, we want to provide the best care possible for our patients. However, despite the remarkable medical breakthroughs we've made and the world-class hospice or palliative care we can provide, it isn't always enough," CMA President Dr. Luther Cobb said in a Wednesday statement. "The decision to participate in the End of Life Option Act is a very personal one between a doctor and their patient, which is why CMA has removed policy that outright objects to physicians aiding terminally ill patients in end of life options."
Cobb continued: "We believe it is up to the individual physician and their patient to decide voluntarily whether the End of Life Option Act is something in which they want to engage. Protecting that physician-patient relationship is essential."
California's End of Life Option Act was inspired by Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old San Francisco Bay Area resident who became an advocate for the "death with dignity" movement after she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Maynard and her husband moved to Oregon, where a doctor could legally help her end her own life. Maynard died Nov. 1, 2014, but her family has lent their support to the California legislation.
"With deep appreciation, I thank the California Medical Association for showing its leadership and wisdom in adopting its neutral policy stance," Maynard's husband Dan Diaz told ABC News of the CMA's reversal. "It supports Brittany's position: 'This decision is mine to make, mine alone.'"
The bill, modeled on Oregon's law, would allow patients to seek end-of-life options if two physicians have determined they have six months or less to live. The bill also requires that the patient submits a written request for the lethal dose of medication, makes two oral requests to a physician at least 15 days apart and has the mental capacity to make decisions about their own health care options.
"This is a major breakthrough," state Sen. Lois Wolk (D), one of the bill's co-authors, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Those members of the Legislature who had doubts about the legislation and concerns about the legislation based on physicians and their opposition will be reassured that the protections placed in the bill meet the standard set by the CMA."
The bill is still in committee, but Wolk hopes to move it to the state Senate floor by the first week of June.