California governor signs the right-to-die legislation

California Governor Jerry Brown

On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a legislation thereby allowing terminally ill people in the state to take their own lives, saying that the emotionally charges bill forced him to consider “what I would want in the face of my own death.”

Brown said that he took the decision after discussing the issue with many people, including the Catholic bishop and two of his own doctors. Brown is a Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian.

“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,” Gov. Brown wrote in a signing statement that accompanied his signature.

Brown’s first comment on the bill was that he would not deny those comforts to others.

The signing of the legislation will make California the fifth state to allow terminally ill patients to use doctor prescribed drugs to end their lives. The measure applies only to the mentally sound people and not those who are depressed or impaired.

State lawmakers passed the bill last month. A previous version failed earlier this year despite the highly publicized case of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to end her life.

The measure was brought back as part of a special session intended to address funding shortfalls for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor. Until the session formally ends which will happen at late in mid-2016, the law cannot come into effect.

The family of Maynard attended the legislative debate in California throughout the year. Debbie Zeigler, her mother testified in committee hearings and carried a large picture of her daughter.

Maynard recorded a video before she took life-ending drugs, in that she told the California lawmakers that the terminally ill should not have to “leave their home and community for peace of mind, to escape suffering and to plan for a gentle death.”

Religious groups, including the Catholic Church and advocated for people with disabilities, while opposing the measure said that it legalizes premature suicide and outs terminally ill patients at risk of coerced death.

Opponents 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 doctors prescribing lethal overdose to patients who might truly want them.

The bill includes requirements that patients be physically capable of taking the medication themselves, approved by doctors, that the patients submit several written requests and that there be two witnesses, one of whom should not be a family member.

This year, at least two dozen stated have introduces the right-to-die legislation, though the measures are stalled elsewhere. Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont doctors can already prescribe life-ending drugs.