tv America Tonight Al Jazeera June 27, 2015 9:00pm-9:31pm EDT
selfies, saying they are a safety concern. it goes into effect on u.s. parks on tuesday and hong kong and paris on wednesday. thank you for joining us. i'm del walters in new york i'll be back with another hour of news at 11:00pm. stay tuned, "america tonight" is next. [ ♪♪ ] on the weekend edition of "america tonight". fighting for the right to die. >> i want my final days to be as happy as possible and i want to live my life - until the bad outweighs the good. >> also the fight to live. >> this $85 prescription will be some people's only option. everyone needs to read what is in this bill. it's bad medicine
and the promise to britney. >> death was imminent for britney, there wasn't a cure or anything that would change the fact that she would die. the manner in which she died she had control of. >> inside the debate in california that could ripple across the nation - somehow medically assisted suicide by legalized. >> this is a matter of personal choice. tonight we tackle a sensitive subject. we will all face death. if you think about the way you want to die. you might say peacefully in your sleep or surrounded by family and friends. what if you could plan that and avoid a painful death because of diseases or cancer. the debate over medically assisted suicide is rapidly heating up, and could be a real
openings for millions of -- options for millions more americans. for those on the front line of the battle. all eyes on california, where one husband made a promise to britney. >> we cannot legislate morality. this is a matter of personal choice. california lawmakers debate becoming the next state to legalize medically assisted suicide. one man watching knows the issue as well as anyone. >> the mainstay of killing through physician-assisted suicide is a drug called pentobarbital. it works by suffocating victims. >> all the arguments - it's a slippery slope, the person is depressed. this is an act of desperation, a cry for help. there'll be coercion, abuses. the same arguments brought up
20 years ago. here we are 20 years later, of after it being in practice, in oregon for 17 years, there's not a single case of any of those concerns. >> dan diaz was married to brittany maynard, the californian woman suffering terminal brain cancer who openly lived out her final days, advocating for the right to die. >> i still have another joy and i laugh and smile with family and friends. it doesn't seem like the right time right now, but it will come, because i feel myself getting sicker each week. >> reporter: the couple briefly moved to oregon, where doctors can prescribe lethal medication. >> my husband is a lovely man. i understand everyone needs to grieve. i want him to be happy
britney ended her life in november 2014. >> people need to think through this for themselves. what is worse - a peaceful passing or being tortured to death? death was imminent for britney. there wasn't a cure or anything that would change the fact that she'd die. the manner in which she died, that's what she had control over. >> how do you think britney would, if she could speak to us now. how do you think she'd describe her end of life experience. >> it's something her and i talked about in the months and weeks leading up to it. there certainly is fear. death is a topic that no one wants to talk about. but britney was brave enough, wise enough to deal with the reality that the tumor - it's not stopping. >> the 29-year-old became the face of compassion and choices an organization pushing states
to legalize the option of physician assistance dying. the controversial end of life choice is authorised in five states. since maynard's death, two dozen additional states and the district of columbia took up the issue. diaz says he made a promise to britney to continue the fight. >> it's amazing one person with one voice can make a difference the fact that it's getting attention and support, it's reflective of the attitudes of the general public. nationwide 74% are actually in favour of the individual being in control of their own dying process. it's a matter of time. state by state we'll fight the battles to get this option in the books. >> reporter: a 2015 gallop poll
says 70% of americans favour, allowing doctors to end life using painless means. when you call it assisted suicide, support plummets to just 51%. >> by not calling it suicide, what are proponents trying to achieve here. >> what they get is the ability to gloss over hard realities, about what's really being proposed. >> erin is a specialist in psychiatry and medical ethics. when they poll people and say "are you in favour of physician-assisted suicide", most say no. >> reporter: the californian medical association long against the idea recently reduced its stance to neutral, but it is controversial with many doctors. >> this is directly contrary to a long tradition in medicine of ethics, going all the way back to the hippocratic oath reaffirmed by the medical associations. physicians have to use knowledge
and skills for the purposes of health and healing. >> have you worked with patients that are contemplating ending their life because of medical pain? >> i have worked with patients that have said things offhand, along the lines of "i don't think i can go on any more." sometimes that's interpreted as a request for assisted suicide. what you dom find is there's something psychologically, or in terms of sociological support or medically that we need a better job to address. once we do that, the desire to die is issued. suicide is a distress signal, it's a cry for help. >> reporter: as for dan diaz, he says he's only begun to fight, to deliver on his promise to britney. why are you still out there on the front fighting for the right to die for all californians? >> as taxing as this legislative
effort is, i think that for me it is somewhat therapeutic, and knowing that i'm keeping my promise to britney, i think that kind of helps me continue, and this makes me feel good. even beyond california, there's 44 other states that don't have the legislation, and so my efforts continue. >> reporter: do you wish she would have given you more time. >> i always wish that she's still here. i look around. every time i see a photo of her i think to myself "that's my baby" i... ..man, the deal was we were supposed to be together forever. that was the deal. that's why we got married. there's all of that - frustration, anger. but my wife took control over her dying process. she harmed no one else along the way. a peaceful passing, surrounded by her loved ones, we should all be so lucky
a vote in the california house that would have pushed the bill forward has been delayed. it's been rescheduled for july the 7th. and i do want to take a moment to talk about some of the language we are using in the debate. both sides don't like certain terms. we are using the term "medically assisted suicide". that is the preferred term according to the associated press style guide. that is the blueprint for journalists up next - we continue our indepth look at the right to die. my emotional interview with a mother of four young children facing death. and fighting the california legislation. >> they are very real problems with this bill. >> reporter: proponents say this is a choice bill. that no doctor will make you take this pill. >> no. but they can take away options.
in just the last year lawmakers in two dozen states took controversial end of life bills on public debate. in the u.s. there's growing support to allow terminally ill patients to end their life with a prescription pill. it's available in a couple of states. a bill in california is gaining momentum, and could have a ripple effect across the country. our special report continues with a look at the opposition, fighting for every last breath. i'm not afraid to die. we are all dying. i think most people are afraid to talk about death,
whereas, you know, for me it's part of my life, to talk about death. stephanie packer's body is not nearly as strong as her spirit. a mother of four young children. she's dying from multiple ailments. every day with her family is a gift. >> the actual dying - i'm not afraid of that. it's going to happen however it happens, whenever it happens. i hope it's later rather than sooner. my fears are all for what happens when my kids get hurt. and who is going to stay up and worry about them all night long. that's what mum does. you know. i do. that's my job. >> reporter: packer has joined the fight against california's sb 128, also called the end of life bill. it would allow doctors to write terminally ill patients a prescription for lethal medication, packer would easily meet the criteria.
>> i have a primary condition and i have lupus which would attack other organs, and another disease, known as the suicide disease. 50% kill themselves within the first two years of having the disease. >> reporter: why is that? >> it is known as the most excruciatingly painful condition in medical practice. >> reporter: are you afraid of this pain? >> very much. there's nothing i can do about it. the medicine doesn't help fast enough. you have to hold your breath. >> reporter: how much longer do you think you have? >> i've no idea. medical records reveal doctors gave packer three years to live, three years ago. although she's running out of treatment options, for this devout catholic, ending her life with a pill is unthinkable.
are you religiously motivated in this? is this your primary reason? >> it is definitely part of my reason, but it most definitely is not my only reason. there are very real problems with this bill. >> reporter: proponents say it is a choice bill. no doctor will make you take the bill ever, no insurance company can force you to do it. >> no, but they can take away options for you. >> to save money? >> absolutely. end of life care. is the most expensive care out there. >> like many against medical aid and dying, packer is alarmed by the case of barbara wagner in swathe. 2008. the lung cancer patient in
oregon was denied a $4,000 a month cancer drug and the state health plan offered an inexpensive prescription to end her life. >> in oregon this law has been in effect for almost two decades, so we have a lot of data and a lot of experience about how it worked in oregon. tony is the director of compassion and choices. the main group lobbying in favour of sb128. >> there's not been significant problems in oregon. opponents talk about the same 6 or seven situation. >> if you look closely, you understand the law works as intended. >> how does religion play into the debate? >> if your religion tells you you shouldn't do this, it's wrong to do this, i would not want you to choose the option. that would go against your deeply held personal valuables. i think that works both ways. the issue here is really that the government should not be in the business of choosing one
religion over another in how the law works. >> reporter: is this an issue of choice? >> part of getting the medication is not whether you take it or not, it's knowing that the option is there, knowing that you can have a peaceful death, and that allows you to live more fully. >> what are you telling me. >> stephanie's choice is different. she wants to honour her catholic faith, and taking her life would be a sin. instead, she's reaching every -- researching every y option to manage her pain. >> holding out hope for an 11th hour medical discovery to keep her alive. >> how do you envision your final moments? >> i don't know. i don't want my kids to watch me die or them to find me dead.
i think that's where i rely on my faith, because i don't have those answers. i think it's okay not to have all the answers, and i think as humans, that's where we fault. is not being able to have control. >> reporter: you know, we are talking about your end of life, your kids, what their future will be like without you in it. yet here you are fighting against this. why? >> this $85 prescription will be some people's only option if something like this passes. everyone needs to read what is in the bill. and not just come to the table and say it's a choice, because this is bad medicine.
>> reporter: fearing a future she's unlikely to witness, as she fights for every last breath. many disability rights groups are opposed to the bill. they are concerned it could encourage people to give up fighting to live or lead to pressure by family members to end life prematurely and coming up next, our special report continues. we meet a woman suing to end her life. unwilling to wait for californian lawmakers and ready to take action her own way. >> it will not be a slow painful death.
suicide. california could be the next state to legalize this option as a bill passed the senate and is working through the assembly. at the same time some terminally ill patients are not waiting for the law, they are pursuing legal action. i sat for an interview with a plaintiff that suing for the right to die. >> elizabeth loves to bring fruits and vegetables to life in her garden. hoping to help her avoid death. >> there's a constant feeling waiting for the shoe to drop. there's never a moment where i don't have cancer. it's hard to make plans or think far ahead in the future. you have a lot to say, kid. >> reporter: at 47 her life was turned upside down.
the single mother in sacramento was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. how severe was the diagnosis? >> nobody really said anything until i went in to the colon surgeon and said i have a 15-year-old son and need to know what i'm dealing with. and he said he'd give me no more than 18 months to live. it was pretty severe. >> reporter: do you mind showing me the scarring? >> it's fine. >> reporter: the treatment was excruciating and left her scarred from numerous surgeries. her teenage son stayed by her side. when she got severely ill from chemotherapy. >> knowing my son has been and would have been the most impacted by this is by far the worse part. death, the person die, is over, but leaving a 15-year-old kid on his own.
the idea is unimaginable. >> reporter: for the last four years she has been beating the odds. since the latest treatment in spring, she doesn't know if the cancer is growing or not. this time she's taking an unusual course of action. suing for the right to legally end her life if and when she says the time is right. >> i don't have any faith in palliative care. after a surgery my lungs started filling up with fluid. and they went to put a drain in my lungs. and i was literally in surgery knocked out, and i was screaming in pain. and that is how i - i don't want to end my life that way, and i absolutely don't want my son to see me that way. the final day, i want them as happy as possible.
i want to live my life until, you know, until it's - until the bad outweighs the good. in the lawsuit, she and three others claim they have a right to have a physician aid them in death and prescribe life-ending medication. >> sp128 is about how we die in california, not an easy conversation to have. >> she supports california's sb 128, the end of life bill currently making its way through the state legislature. we saw her praying during a vote in the senate. if passed, california would become the sixth, and by far the largest state to offer an end option to terminally ill patients. >> what's the difference between the practice of doctors withholding food, withholding nutrition and water, and this?
>> torture. i mean, the only difference that i can see is i get to suffer. and that's a pretty horrific thing. that's the only difference. >> what is wrong with the law proposed in california. >> this is a band-aid solution, that over the long term will make matters worse. >> doctor erin is a medical ethicist at u.c. irvine, and staunch opponent to assisted suicide. proponents say there are safeguards in place. >> we know in oregon, 6% of patients dying of assisted suicide ever were referred to psychiatric assessment. only 13 had palliative care -- back when they tracked the dada only 13% had palliative care referral on had a conversation with an expert on end of life before getting a prescription for the deadly drug. >> reporter: oregon's public
health division said the concerns have not become a reality. oregon was the first state to pass a death with dignity law. since then 850 people ended their lives. mostly cancer patients with good medical care, like walner. >> i don't know any terminal patient that wants to die. i think we don't want to drag our death out. we are going to die. if it comes to that point where there's no more that i can do, my body is failing, orphans -- organs are shutting down, all that is left is die. and it can be slow and painful or under my terms. this man, who is influenced by his catholic faith, warps of a slippery slope. >> if this is a benefit to someone that can make the request. physicians would say it can be of benefit to a person that can
not make the request. we move logically from voluntary assisted suicide to terminally ill patients and other problems, to nonvoluntary euthanasia for patients who are incapacitated, can't speak for themselves, and the doctor or the hospital deems it appropriate to go ahead and end his life. >> reporter: what do you say to the opposition. >> with the physicians, i would say it's my choice to have treatment, it's my choice to stop treatment. if it's a religious opposition, the god that i'm believing in does not want me to suffer, what i believe in is love, hope and prayer, and companionship and benevolence, not about suffering. >> reporter: so why the fresh produce? >> i think it probably supports my health and healing. >> wallner is fighting to extend her life. weekly trips to a farmer's market, fuelling her body with
organic foods, hoping it buys her extra time. if this does not become law in california, what will you do? >> there are medications. you know, i walk out of the hospital when i have a procedure with untold amounts of medication. so i really, honestly, i don't know what i would do. but i'm not going to - it won't be a slow painful death. >> reporter: you are going to control it if you can. >> yes. >> absolutely. that's it for us here on "america tonight". tell us what you think on aljazeera.com/americatonight. you can join the debate on facebook or twitter using the hashtag death debate. come back, we'll have more of
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