Supporters say the bill would bring choice and dignity to those suffering, while opponents say the poor will be pressured by family members and heirs to take their lives because healthcare is too expensive.
The most populous state in the country could have an assisted suicide law if California Governor Jerry Brown signs a bill on his desk, which passed both houses of the legislature last week following intense, emotional debate.
Four other states—Oregon, Washington state, Vermont, and Montana— allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to patients with terminal disease in certain circumstances, with consent. (In Montana, such actions are protected by a court ruling.) California’s bill requires that 2 different doctors determine that a patient has 6 months or less to live.
The patients must also have the capacity to make medical decisions on their own, and they must physically able to swallow the medication.
While supporters of the bill say it will bring dignity and choice to those who are suffering, critics in the legislature mocked the name and call it the “aid in killing” law, adding that it is not the solution for the escalating cost of medical care.
High-profile advocates for the law include Dan Diaz, who was married to Brittany Maynard before she moved from California to Oregon to take her life under that state law. Maynard suffered from terminal brain cancer and publicly spoke out about her decision in the weeks before ending her life. Diaz said she spoke to Governor Brown 3 days before her death in the fall of 2014.
“I’d like to think that hopefully, as Governor Brown deliberates on this very tough and very personal piece of legislation that he’ll remember that conversation with Brittany,” Diaz said a press conference.
Opponents, however, say there are not enough protections for those whose families face financial hardship because of their cancer or other terminal disease, or disability.
“End-of-life treatment options are already limited for millions of people—constrained by poverty, disability discrimination, and other obstacles,” said Tim Rosales, spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide. “Adding this so-called ‘choice’ into our dysfunctional healthcare system will push people into cheaper lethal options.”
While Governor Brown is a Democrat, opponents of the law predict that his early religious background will weigh on him as he decides what to do with the bill. As a young man, Brown was a Jesuit novice for 3 years, with the intent of becoming a Catholic priest.
Protections added to the bill include a sunset provision, which means the bill would have to be proactively renewed in 10 years. Patients must request the drugs 3 times, including once in writing with 2 witnesses, and they must sign a form 2 days before ingesting the medication. Bill sponsors called these measure the strongest protections available in any such law in the nation.
Opponents were not convinced. “The promises and assurances of the safeguards and protections from the representatives of those in favor are based on innocent ignorance,” said state Senator Joel Anderson, R-San Diego.