California governor signs right-to-die legislation

2015-10-06 11:45
Jerry Brown. (Damian Dovarganes, AP)

Jerry Brown. (Damian Dovarganes, AP)

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Sacramento - California will become the fifth US state to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives using doctor-prescribed drugs after Governor Jerry Brown announced on Monday he had signed one of the most emotionally charged bills of the year.

Brown, a lifelong Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian, announced he had signed the legislation after thoroughly considering all opinions and discussing the issue with many people, including a Catholic bishop and two of Brown's doctors.

"In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death," the governor wrote in a signing statement that accompanied his signature on the legislation. "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.

The 77-year-old Democratic governor said he would not those comforts to others.

Until now, Brown had declined to comment on the issue.

Brittany Maynard

State lawmakers approved the bill September 11. A previous version failed this year despite the highly publicised case of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, a California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon where she could legally end her life.

Opponents said the bill legalises premature suicide, but supporters called that comparison inappropriate because it applies to mentally sound, terminally ill people and not those who are depressed or impaired.

Religious groups and advocates for people with disabilities opposed the bill and nearly identical legislation that had stalled in the Legislature weeks earlier, saying it goes against the will of God and put terminally ill patients at risk for coerced death.

The measure was brought back as part of a special session intended to address funding shortfalls for the state's health insurance programme for the poor. The governor had criticised the move to bypass the usual process.

The law cannot take effect until the legislative session formally ends, which probably will not happen until at least mid-2016.

The bill he received includes requirements that patients be physically capable of taking the medication themselves, that two doctors approve it, that the patients submit several written requests, and that there be two witnesses, one of whom is not a family member.

California's measure came after at least two dozen states introduced aid-in-dying legislation this year, though the measures stalled elsewhere. Doctors in Oregon, Washington state, Vermont and Montana already can prescribe life-ending drugs.

Maynard's family attended the legislative debate in California throughout the year. Maynard's mother, Debbie Ziegler, testified in committee hearings and carried a large picture of her daughter as she listened to lawmakers' debate.

In a video recorded days before Maynard took life-ending drugs, she told California lawmakers that no one should have to leave home to legally kill themselves under the care of a doctor.

"No one should have to leave their home and community for peace of mind, to escape suffering, and to plan for a gentle death," Maynard said in the video released by right-to-die advocates after her death.

The Catholic Church targeted Catholic lawmakers before the bill's passage and urged the governor to veto it.

Opponents said they were disappointed that the governor relied so heavily on his personal experience in his decision.

As someone of wealth with access to the world's best medical care, "the governor's background is very different than that of millions of Californians living in health care poverty without that same access," the group Californians Against Assisted Suicide said in a statement that warned of doctors prescribing lethal overdoses to patients who might not truly want them.

Read more on:    brittany maynard  |  us

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