A controversial legislation was signed Monday by California governor Jerry Brown, according to which, terminally ill patients will be able to take lethal medication to end their lives.
“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” Brown wrote in a personal note. “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.” As reported by NPR, state Senator Bill Monning, who is one of the authors of the legislation, said the signing of the legislation “marks a historic day in California,” added that the governor’s thoughts gave a “a powerful statement.”
The same law was brought into effect in 1997 in Oregon. Last year, 105 obtained lethal medication to end their lives. Under the California law, mentally competent patients who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and are expected to live for less than six months can be prescribed lethal medication from their physicians. The End of Life Option Act has held divided opinions among physicians, ethicists, religious leaders and the Democratic majority in the Legislature.
Tim Rosales, a spokesman for Californians against Assisted Suicide, criticized Brown’s decision. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, he said, “This is a dark day for California and for the Brown legacy. 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.”
The issue of right to die was brought to the fore by Brittany Maynard, who learned that she was suffering from brain cancer on New Year’s Day, 2014. Since California did not permit taking one’s life, she moved to Oregon to be allowed to be prescribed lethal medication. She wrote in a CNN.com opinion piece, “My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?” Maynard took the medication last year to end her life.
Since the law was passed in Oregon, almost 1,173 prescriptions have been written by doctors – while 752 used lethal medication to end their lives, 421 chose not to, Patricia A. Gonzalez-Portillo, of Compassion & Choices, said. In 1992, a proposal allowing physicians to prescribe lethal medication to the terminally ill was rejected by California voters. Similar bills allowing patients to obtain lethal medication failed in the Legislature in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Brown has himself suffered from cancers in the past. In 2008, a small basal cell carcinoma was removed from his right ear. A cancerous growth was removed from his nose in 2011. He also received treatment for prostate cancer the following year. In his note, Brown wrote that the bill “is not an ordinary bill because it deals with life and death,” further adding, “The crux of the matter is whether the state of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life, no matter how great his pain or suffering.”
The law in California will go into effect in 2016, making it the fifth state to allow assisted suicides. Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont are other states that allow terminally ill patients to obtain lethal medication to end their lives.
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