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California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez has announced that he will back a bill to allow terminally ill people to hasten their deaths with lethal prescriptions. Similar bills have failed in the last two years, but supporters say Nuñez, a Los Angeles Democrat, could make the difference.

“We are more hopeful now than ever that we can get this bill signed into law,” said the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Patty Berg (D-Eureka).

Nuñez said he is “ready to buck my church,” despite an entreaty from Cardinal Roger M. Mahony. The Catholic Church, which teaches against suicide, helped defeat the previous “death with dignity” legislation. Nuñez said he would call Mahony today.

He said Berg and her fellow author, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), persuaded him that the proposal, modeled on a 9-year-old Oregon law, is not about suicide but about “how people are going to live the last days of their lives.”

“They’re going to die,” Nuñez said of those who would qualify for the lethal drugs. “The question is how much pain and suffering is involved and how much of that person’s dignity is taken away from him or her.”

The bill, AB 374, would allow people with less than six months to live who have been declared mentally competent to get drugs that they would administer themselves.

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