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California Governor Signs Assisted Suicide Bill Into Law

Assisted suicide is set to become a reality in California after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a measure into law on Monday.

“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 law will be enacted 90 days after it passes the special legislative session in which it passes adjourns, which is expected sometime next year.

The New York Times reports:

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, director of the medical ethics program at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, said he expected a number of hospitals would refuse to offer life-ending drugs, to preserve their own reputations and relationships with patients.

“I worry about what this is going to do to the perception of medicine,” he said. “I think you’re going to see more and more mistrust of medical professional by patients worried about what will happen if they enroll in end-of-life care.”

Past efforts to allow doctors to help patients end their lives in California had failed. But this year, support for more end-of-life choices was galvanized around the country by the case of Brittany Maynard, 29, a Bay Area woman who received a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. Before she died last November, Ms. Maynard became a spokeswoman for the “death with dignity” movement, moving her family to Oregon so she could die on her own terms, and drawing national attention to her cause.

In 2014, four states considered bills to allow physicians to help terminally ill patients end their lives; this year, that number increased to 24 states plus the District of Columbia, according to Compassion and Choices, a group that supported the law.

Mickey MacIntyre, the chief program officer for Compassion and Choices, said he hoped passage in California would spur other states to pass similar measures.

“California will provide some momentum and space for legislators to see that they can enact laws that are popular, supported by law, and bring relief to those who need it at the ends of their lives,” he said.

Debbie Ziegler, Ms. Maynard’s mother, said news that the governor had signed the bill her family had backed was a “bittersweet moment.”

“Today gives my daughter’s death purpose, and I think any mother who’s lost a child wants that,” she said. “Californians are going to benefit from this whether they’re terminally ill or not because this opens up a dialogue about death and dying. This law means that conversation is going to be more open and more candid.”

The California law includes protections designed to assuage concerns about potential abuse. Patients must be terminally ill and mentally sound; they must be capable of administering the medication themselves; and two different doctors must approve it.

Hospitals and doctors will also have the option of not offering end-of-life drugs.

“We’ve crafted the strongest protections of any such law that currently exists,” said Bill Monning, a California senator and one of the law’s sponsors. He added that, despite fears by opponents, hospice care had grown extensively in Oregon since that state’s “death with dignity” law was approved.

In his signing message, Mr. Brown wrote that he had seriously weighed arguments from people lobbying on both sides, and consulted with “a Catholic bishop, two of my own doctors, and former classmates and friends who take varied, contradictory and nuanced positions.”

“In the end,” he wrote, “I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death.”

Photo credit: CNN.

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