Neon Tommy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Neon Tommy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

California is now the 5th state to honor Dignity in Death, with the right-to-die-bill.

Despite strong opposition from various pro-life organizations and religious groups, the California State, through Gov. Jerry Brown signed the controversial End of Life Option Act into law on Monday, October 5, 2015. The new law which will eventually allow terminally ill patients to medically end their life will take effect next year.

Gov. Brown who is a full-pledged Catholic and even a former Jesuit seminarian faced the strongest opposition from the Catholic Church. The California Catholic Conference has persuaded the governor to veto the bill upon its passage citing Pope Francis’ message “Pope Francis invites all of us to create our good society by seeing through the eyes of those who are on the margins, those in need economically, physically, psychologically and socially.” Religious groups essentially see the law to be against God’s will making patients “at risk of coerced death.” Other groups that lobby against the act consider the idea as legalization of premature suicide.

On the other hand, the main supporter of the bill is the “death of dignity” movement which argues that terminally ill patients that are mentally sound, not depressed or impaired should be given the option to end their lives especially when they are suffering physically and financially.

One of the prominent campaigners or inspirations of the right-to-die bill is 29-year-old Brittany Maynard. Maynard developed brain cancer which according to her doctors is already on its end stage. Because the right-to-die act is still not legal in California, she was forced to move to Oregon to avail of the medical option to end her life.

In a statement before her death Maynard argued that “I am heartbroken that I had to leave behind my home, my community and my friends in California. But I am dying and I refuse to lose my dignity. I refuse to subject myself and my family to purposeless, prolonged pain and suffering at the hands of an incurable disease. No one should have to leave their home and community for peace of mind, to escape suffering and to plan for a gentle death.”

The same last message by Maynard was included in the arguments used by its campaigners during the legislative hearings on the bill. Even after Maynard’s death, her mother Debbie Ziegler continued the fight in support of the right-to-die bill.

Gov. Jerry Brown sought reflection and numerous advises both from medical doctors and church leaders. Brown eventually signed the bill and reasoned out that “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, no matter how great his pain or suffering.”

The state Governor cited that he arrived at the decision by being in the shoes of terminally ill patients. Gov. Brown said that “In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. 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.”

There are several checks ensured by the newly signed law to avoid abuse or any unwanted death. The patient availing his/her legal right should be terminally ill or was only given six months or less to live by two separate doctors. The patient should be mentally sound while giving his/her decision, must submit several written requests, oral requests that are at least 15 days apart, and the presence of at least two witnesses.

California is now the 5th state to have such law with Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington being the first four. Currently, there are also about a dozen more states which have similar legislations in the pipeline.

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