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Aging & Longevity

Aid-in-Dying Bill to become law in California

Gov. Jerry Brown says it is what he would want; terminally ill can buy lethal medication

Oct. 5, 2015 - California Gov. Jerry Brown says it all came down to what he would want in the face of his own death, when he signed landmark legislation today to allow terminally ill patients to obtain lethal medication to end their lives.

“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” the former Jesuit seminarian wrote. “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.”

Brown, who is a Democrat, had been silent on the issue before Monday’s signing statement. If he had not signed the bill, it would have become law later this week. In a deeply personal statement, Brown wrote that he read opposition materials carefully, but in the end was left to reflect on what he would want in the face of his own death.

 

He told CNN, “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," Brown said, "no matter how great his pain and suffering."

The governor made his perspective clear - and made ABX2 15, which also called the "End of Life Option Act," a statewide law

The new law requires two different doctors to determine that a patient has six months or less to live before prescribing the drugs. Patients must be physically able to swallow the medication themselves, and must have the mental capacity to make medical decisions.

Brown’s signature concludes a hotly contested debate that elicited impassioned testimony from lawmakers, cancer patients who fear deaths marked by uncontrollable pain and suffering and religious and disability advocates who fear coercion and abuse.

The law will take effect in 2016, 91 days after the special legislative session concludes. At that time, California will become the fifth state to allow physician-assisted suicide. Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont permit the practice. It was permitted in New Mexico until August, when the state supreme court ruled to outlaw the practice. Attorneys for the doctors and their patients vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The California law is set to expire in ten years, unless the Legislature passes another law to extend it.

Brown’s decision provoked strong reactions Monday from proponents and opponents alike.

“I’m disappointed and I’m worried,” said Marg Hall, a disability rights advocate who opposed the bill.

“Given the level of dysfunction and injustice that exists currently in our health care 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.”

Tim Rosales, spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide, said that this is “a dark day for Californians.”

“Governor Brown was clear in his statement that this was based on his experience and his background,” he said. “As someone of wealth and access to the best medical care and doctors, the governor’s background is very different than millions of Californians living in health care poverty.”

Rosales said those are the people who are potentially hurt by giving doctors the “power to prescribe lethal overdoses to patients.”

But Robert Liner, a retired obstetrician who is in remission from lymphoma, said he was thrilled, having fought for this change for many years.

“It has been a long road,” Liner said. “I’m really glad Gov. Brown stepped up to the plate and signed it.”

Liner, 71, is part of a lawsuit seeking doctors’ right to avoid liability for prescribing lethal medication to terminally ill patients. Liner said he doesn’t know what he will do when he reaches the time to make a decision about his own life.

“But I really think it is important to have an option,”  he said. “I am delighted.”

Notes:

The original report was writing by 

The story is part of a partnership that includes KQED, NPR and Kaiser Health News. It can be republished for free. (details).

Some of this information is reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives and sign up for email delivery. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

 

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