California Becomes Fifth State to Adopt ‘Right-to-Die’ Law

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Brittany Maynard

Assisted suicide will soon be legal in California, as the state is set to become the fifth to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with a doctor’s guidance. Governor Jerry Brown signed the “right-to-die” bill into law Monday, which was passed by the California legislature last month. However, the law will not take effect until 90 days after California’s legislature adjourns a special health-care session, reports the Los Angeles Times, which will likely happen early next year.  

The law gained some traction following the high-profile case of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon — one of the other four states, including Washington, Vermont, and Montana, that allows for assisted suicide — so she could end her life after getting a terminal brain-cancer diagnosis. Still, the bill was highly controversial, with those for and against the law locked in a contentious debate. Religious groups, especially those affiliated with the Catholic Church, lobbied passionately against the bill. Governor Jerry Brown, who is Catholic and once considered the priesthood, hinted that he struggled with the law, but ultimately came down in favor of giving people the chance to choose. “In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Brown said in a statement. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying or 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.”

California’s bill shares its framework with Oregon’s law, which requires that candidates for assisted suicide be deemed mentally competent and have a terminal diagnosis with a life expectancy of no more than six months. Patients must submit requests for life-ending drugs in writing and get the approval of two doctors. People must also be able to take the drugs themselves and must do so in the presence of at least two witnesses, one of whom can’t be related to the dying person. 

California is the largest state to enact assisted-suicide legislation. More than 20 other states introduced death-with-dignity bills this year, but all were derailed or blocked.