California governor Jerry Brown signed a landmark legislation on October 2 that will allow terminally ill patients the right to obtain lethal medication to end their lives when and where they choose. The rather controversial decision was reached after months of emotionally wrenching debates, and would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill residents of California if they request them.
The Right to Die
The California Governor’s signature concludes a hotly contested, ten month debate that elicited impassioned testimony from cancer patients and lawmakers who fear deaths marked by such pain and suffering, as well as disability and religious advocates who fear the possibility of coercion and abuse.
“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain.” Gov. Jerry Brown wrote in a deeply 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.”
The new law will require two doctors to determine that a patient has six months or less to live before actually prescribing the drugs. The patients also need to be able to physically swallow the medication themselves, and must have the mental capacity to make such a decision.
The law will take effect in 2016, which is just 91 days after the special legislative session concludes. By then, California will have become the fifth state that allows physician-assisted suicide, joining the ranks of Washington, Montana, Vermont, and Oregon. The new law will expire in ten years, unless the Legislature passes another law to extend it.
Despite being a landmark decision, not everyone is pleased with the outcome. Marg Hall, disability rights advocate with the Communities United in Defense of Olmstead said that “I’m disappointed and I’m worried. Given the level of dysfunction and injustice that exists currently in our health system, with many people without insurance still, with the very underfunded ability of people to have choices for treatment and care, adding this very potentially dangerous tool to the mix is of great concern to people with disabilities.”
Others say that the new law may fuel abuse, and make patients more vulnerable to greedy relatives who may be after their inheritance.
Only time will tell if the law will actually be effective in providing comfort to those suffering from painful and excruciating sicknesses, or if it would be a way for people to abuse the weak in pursuit of money.