Health Law

California becomes 5th state to legalize assisted suicide

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Jerry Brown

California Gov. Jerry Brown. Dan Holm /

California Gov. Jerry Brown ended weeks of speculation by signing a controversial assisted suicide bill into law.

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported Brown had officially signed the bill, which allows patients to end their lives with doctor-prescribed drugs. The bill had passed Sept. 11, but Brown, a devout Catholic and former seminary student, had given no indication whether he would sign it. California is now the fifth state in the country to allow assisted suicide, joining Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.

“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Brown stated. “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. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

According to the Times, California’s law was modeled after Oregon’s and allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients who are diagnosed with a terminal illness and told they will die in less than six months. The law would take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, which is scheduled to run into early 2016.

Brown’s action was good news for Compassion & Choices, a group that pushed for the law. “This is the biggest victory for the death-with-dignity movement since Oregon passed the nation’s first law two decades ago,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, the group’s president, to the L.A. Times. “This victory is hugely significant in both substance and scope. Enactment of this law in California means we are providing this option to more than one in 10 Americans.”

On the other hand, Californians Against Assisted Suicide, a group that includes doctors, religious leaders and advocates for disabled individuals, was hugely disappointed. “This is a dark day for California and for the Brown legacy,” CAAS spokesman Tim Rosales said in a statement. “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.”

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