California Governor Signs Right-To-Die Bill Into Law

It becomes the fifth state to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives.

On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that made his state the fifth in the U.S. to allow patients to legally end their lives under a doctor's supervision. Brown had wrangled with his own faith before signing California's right-to-die legislation, revealing in a statement that the controversial bill forced him to reflect on "what I would want in the face of my own death." 

A lifelong Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian who considered joining the priesthood, Brown said that religious objections were not enough for him to veto it. He added that he made a decision after discussing the issue with many people, including a Catholic bishop and two of his own doctors.

"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," Brown said in his signing statement.

Right-to-die advocates had been working for almost two decades for its legalization. But it only gained significant momentum last year when Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old newlywed, traveled to Oregon — where physician-assisted suicide is legal — from California to end her own life after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Since her death, half of all states in the U.S. have introduced similar legislation.

States that already allow the practice include Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana.

California's right-to-die law applies to those who have been given six months or less to live. The patient must submit written requests for life-ending medication and two doctors are required to give consent to the prescription.

In his statement, Brown struck a personal tone. "I do not know what I would do if I were dying in excruciating and prolonged pain," he said. "I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I would not deny that right to others."

Cover image via iStock / KatarzynaBialasiewicz