A controversial bill allowing terminally ill patients to legally end their lives with a physician’s supervision has been signed into law in California.
It means California is the state the fifth in the nation to allow so-called “assisted suicide.”
Governor Jerry Brown, 77, noted the decision to sign the right-to-die legislation— referred to as ABX2 15 or the “End of Life Option Act”— was an emotional and personal one.
“ABx2 15 is not an ordinary bill because it deals with life and death,” Brown wrote in his signing message.
Brown, a Democratic Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian, said he consulted a Catholic bishop, two of his own doctors and friends “who take varied, contradictory and nuanced positions” before making a decision.
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death," wrote Brown, who has been treated for prostate cancer and melanoma.
“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” he continued. “I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill.
“And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
Brown noted he also took into account heartfelt pleas from the family of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with terminal brain cancer who moved to Oregon to end her life.
Her decision to move to earn the right to die brought to the forefront of the nation’s attention the debate on passing legislation to allow terminally ill patients to use doctor-prescribed drugs to end their lives.
“When you realize that you’re going to die and then you learn how you’re going to die, you have choices to make, and those choices aren’t easy,” Maynard said in a video recorded on the subject.
“I looked at passing away in hospice care in California and I really didn’t like what that would’ve looked like for me,” she continued. “I have a tremendous sense of relief now that I’ve had the prescription filled and it’s in my possession… this issue of death with dignity is misunderstood by many people in our community and culture.”
Maynard ended her life on November 1, 2014, a few weeks after her first video on the subject garnered national attention.
“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love,” Maynard wrote in her final Facebook post.
“Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me ... but would have taken so much more.”
But opponents of the bill said they were disappointed the governor made the decision a personal one.
“As someone of wealth and access to the world's best medical care and doctors the Governor's background is very different than that of millions of Californians living in healthcare poverty without that same access - these are the people and families potentially hurt by giving doctors the power to prescribe lethal overdoses to patients,” Californians Against Assisted Suicide wrote in a statement.
The bill applies only to mentally sound people, 18 years of age or older, who are not depressed or impaired. It requires that patients make two oral and one written request to their physician, signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses, one of whom may not be family.
The patient must also be physically capable of taking the medication themselves.
The law cannot take effect until the session formally ends, which is not likely to happen until at least mid-2016.