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Assembly Bill 487

Fall 2001

Compassion's legislative efforts to improve end-of-life care include landmark legislation introduced in California by Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley. Compassion researched and wrote AB 487 and, in cooperation with Americans for Death with Dignity, is working diligently for its passage in the California legislature.

Originally Assembly Bill 487 instructed medical boards to order remedial training when it found a physician had provided inadequate pain care. Amended in the process of passage through numerous committees, it now requires all physicians to take courses in pain management and treatment of the terminally ill, as part of their continuing education for re-licensure. It also directs the Medical Board of California (MBC) to craft procedures for investigating complaints of under treating pain by 2002 and regularly report its action on such cases.

Kathryn Tucker, Director of Legal Affairs, wrote a proposal for reform, outlining current state law pertaining to pain management and identifying the gap in existing law for physician accountability. Tucker cited a study showing that 50 percent of all dying patients had unmanaged pain. The history of the Bergman case poignantly demonstrated the lack of action by the MBC and the resulting lack of accountability for physicians.

Compassion provided both expert and consumer witnesses for legislative hearings, who testified on the scope and impact of the problem of untreated pain. Professor Ben Rich, a widely published legal scholar in health care and bioethics, addressed two standing committees on the pervasive phenomena of undertreated pain. Beverly Bergman told her compelling story to two committees "so that no patient should ever suffer as her father did." Her testimony, combined with extensive media coverage of the trial, propelled the bill through both the assembly and senate committees.

At this writing the bill awaits action by the Senate Appropriations committee and a vote on the Senate floor. The bill enjoys widespread support and is likely to arrive on the desk of Governor Gray Davis in early autumn.

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