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US lawmakers see new push for assisted suicide
Updated: 2006-01-18 10:17

A US Supreme Court ruling backing Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law gives a major boost to a similar measure languishing in the California legislature since last year, lawmakers said on Tuesday.

In a file photo Ruth Gallaid, from Eugene, Or., shows support for physician assisted suicide in front of the Supreme Court Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005 in Washington. The Supreme Court on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2005, upheld Oregon's one-of-a-kind physician-assisted suicide law, rejecting a Bush administration attempt to punish doctors who help terminally ill patients die. [AP]

"I believe we will get this bill passed this year and signed by the governor," said Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, co-author of a law to allow state residents to obtain lethal medication if they had less than six months to live.

Levine, a Democrat, spoke after the US Supreme Court rejected legal arguments by the Bush Administration seeking to strike down Oregon's pioneering Death with Dignity Act. Under that law unique in the United States, about 240 terminally ill people since 1997 have turned to doctors to end their lives.

"I think it's going to provide great momentum for Assemblyman Levine and myself to move our bill forward," Patty Berg, co-sponsor of the California bill, told a telephone news conference.

"There were several members who said we should wait until the Supreme Court rules," she said, adding that a legislative battle still was ahead: "We still have some convincing to do."

The proposed law suggests that terminally ill Californians have the opportunity to say: "I request that my attending physician prescribe medication that will end my life in a humane and dignified manner."

Last April the California Assembly's judiciary committee approved the bill, which would require two oral requests and a written request over a 15-day period. The measure has since languished, and is awaiting review by the California Senate's judiciary committee in March.

Sponsors say it could go to the full legislature by May.

The bill would require approval by both houses and signature by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before becoming law.

Schwarzenegger "has indicated through his staff that he is certainly open to this," Levine said.

At a separate news conference on Tuesday, Republican Schwarzenegger, who is seeking re-election in November, did not reveal his position on the issue, saying he would need to review any related legislation.

A number of California groups have expressed strong opposition to an assisted-suicide law, including the California Catholic Conference and the California Medical Association.

Vermont is considering similar legislation. Some nations, including the Netherlands and Belgium, have in recent years allowed assisted suicide and euthanasia.

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