​California lawmakers to pursue right-to-die legislation

Last Updated Jan 21, 2015 8:18 AM EST

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California lawmakers are pursuing right-to-die legislation after the highly publicized death of a young woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life.

The proposal by Democrats would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication nearly a decade after similar legislation failed. Terminally ill patients can legally take their lives in five states, including Oregon.

Advocates for aid in dying are ramping-up their efforts across the U.S. using the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old San Francisco Bay Area woman who moved with family to Oregon because of that state's Death With Dignity Act.

Maynard, who ended her life in November, had argued in online videos and national media appearances that she should have had the right to die in California.

"I don't want to die," Maynard told CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford in mid-October, a few weeks before she died. "If anyone wants to hand me, like, a magical cure and save my life so that I can have children with my husband, you know, I will take them up on it."

Maynard, who suffered from a fast-moving and inoperable form of brain cancer, insisted her decision was not the same as committing suicide.

"No, cancer is ending my life," she said. "I am choosing to end it a little sooner and in a lot less pain and suffering."

"Why should someone who willingly wants to avail themselves of this option have to go to another state? It just adds to the suffering and challenge at an already difficult time," state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, said Tuesday.

Opponents say some patients may feel pressured to end their lives if doctors are allowed to prescribe fatal medication. Religious groups have condemned aid-in-dying legislation as against God's will.

Monning is among three Democratic lawmakers who plan to appear with Maynard's family to promote right-to-die legislation Wednesday. It would be limited to those with less than six months to live and requires patients take deadly medication themselves without help from a doctor.

His bill is modeled off of Oregon's law, which was approved by voters in 1994 and reaffirmed in 1997.

Washington voters also approved right-to-die legislation, while court decisions in New Mexico and Montana have essentially legalized aid in dying.

Vermont's Legislature became the first group of lawmakers to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives in 2013, but other statehouses have been hesitant.

New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut have rejected similar legislative proposals recently. Right-to-die legislation failed in the California in 2005 and 2006 over objections from Catholic and medical groups.

Molly Weedn, a spokeswoman for the California Medical Association, says her group has longstanding "opposition to physician assisted suicide because it is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as a healer."

The group is waiting to review the new bill before taking a position.

Compassion & Choices, which advocates for right-to-die laws, hopes publicity around Maynard's story will reverse the string of legislative defeats. It is also considering taking the issue before California voters in 2016.

"Legislators now understand this is a social justice issue that has huge popular support, and they want to be part of it," said Barbara Coombs-Lee, president of Compassion & Choices.

Since Maynard's story became widely known, elected officials in Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania have also proposed new end-of-life laws. Lawmakers in other states including New York, Maryland and Colorado are also planning legislation.

Before she died, Maynard said helping to give others the chance to end their lives on their own terms gave her final few weeks a purpose.

"I'd say most of my sadness centers around how much I wanted a family," Maynard said. "And it feels like for me, that was always, like, how you created a legacy was, like, through your children. And sort of inadvertently -- through sharing my story, I've realized there's a bit of the legacy I'm creating this way and I'm not ashamed of that. I'm not ashamed to attach my name to what I think is a right that should belong to all terminally ill Americans. I really do."