California Governor Jerry Brown (D) approved legislation on Monday allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives under the supervision of a doctor, making California the fifth and largest state to pass a “death-with-dignity” bill.
The End of Life Option Act, which was sponsored by Democratic representatives, was initially approved by the state Senate in September, and has been awaiting a decision from the governor. In a heartfelt statement regarding his decision, Brown expressed his own inner conflict:
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. 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.”
The campaign to allow doctor-assisted death was intensified last year after a 29-year-old woman, Brittany Maynard, who suffered from terminal brain cancer, moved from California to Oregon in order to end her life under Oregon’s death-with-dignity law. Before her death, she joined with the advocacy group Compassion & Choices to promote the right for terminally ill patients to die painlessly.
Supporters of the California bill were relieved that their struggle was over. Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices and a co-author of Oregon’s bill, said in a statement: “This is the biggest victory for the death-with-dignity movement since Oregon passed the nation’s first law two decades ago” Besides Oregon and now California, the only states to have similar laws or court rulings are Washington, Montana, New Mexico, and Vermont.
Before any right-wing lunatics start bringing up things like “death panels,” it’s worth noting that the rules for prescribing life-ending drugs are still very strict. Two doctors must confirm that the patient has less than six months to live, and a written and oral request must be submitted by the patient at least 15 days apart. Also, nobody is allowed to make the request except the patient.
Although Governor Brown faced some opposition to the bill, it is a relief to know that those terminal patients in California who are suffering deeply now have another option to consider in how to manage the end of their life. Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), a co-author of the bill, expressed her feelings upon hearing that it had been signed into law:
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“I felt tearful, I felt grateful, and I felt a real sense of humility for being part of something that will hopefully work well and also help us talk more about end of life care moving forward.”
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.