California Gov. Jerry Brown signed landmark legislation Monday, allowing terminally ill patients to obtain lethal medication to end their lives when and where they choose.
In a deeply personal note, Brown said 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.
“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” he 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.”
The new law requires two 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, 10-month 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.
Marg Hall, disability rights advocate with the Communities United in Defense of Olmstead, had this to say Monday: “I’m disappointed and I’m worried. 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.”
The law will take effect in 2016, which is 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 an appeals court in the state reversed a lower court ruling that had established physician-assisted suicide as a right. The New Mexico Supreme Court is now hearing that case.
The California law is set to expire in 10 years, unless the Legislature passes another law to extend it.