Physician-assisted suicide will become legal in California under a bill signed into law on Monday, October 5 by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, despite intense opposition from some religious and disability rights groups.
The law, based on a similar measure in Oregon, allows doctors to prescribe medication to end a patient’s life if two doctors agree the person has only six months to live and is mentally competent.
In a rare statement accompanying the signing notice, Brown, a former Roman Catholic seminarian, said he closely considered arguments on both sides of the controversial measure, which makes California only the fifth US state to legalize assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.
“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” Brown said. “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 law, which goes into effect January 1, makes it a felony to pressure anyone into requesting or taking assisted suicide drugs.
Advocates for physician-assisted suicide have tried for decades to persuade California to legalize the practice as a way to help end-stage cancer and other patients to die with less pain and suffering, failing six times in the legislature or the ballot box before finally winning passage last month.
The latest bill was introduced amid nationwide publicity over the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old brain cancer patient who moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s assisted suicide law and died there.
“My wife, Brittany Maynard, spoke up last year to make a difference for terminally ill individuals who are facing a potentially harsh dying process,” said Maynard’s widower, Dan Diaz, who lobbied passionately for the bill when it was before the legislature.
The California bill was strongly opposed by some religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, as well as advocates for people with disabilities, who said unscrupulous caregivers or relatives could pressure vulnerable patients to take their own lives.
The law will expire after 10 years unless extended, a compromise with lawmakers who were worried about unintended consequences such as the targeting of the poor, elderly and disabled.
Physician-assisted suicide is already legal in the states of Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.