After discussions about morality and mortality, trust in doctors, God’s grace, the right of the dying to determine their own fate, and protection for the elderly and vulnerable, California State Legislature approved a bill that will allow doctors to help terminally ill people end their own lives. California Governor Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminary student, has been treated for prostate cancer and melanoma. In signing the bill into law he wrote, “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.”
The law is called The End of Life Option Act. It requires patients to submit, at least 15 days apart, two oral requests for a lethal prescription. Also required are a written request signed in front of two witnesses who attest that the patient is of sound mind and not under duress. The attending physician receives all three requests. The law expires after ten years and has to be reapproved.
State Sen. Lois Wolk, a co-author of the bill, said in a statement, “No longer should terminally ill individuals in California be forced to suffer needlessly in their final days when a more compassionate option is available.” However, the bill was opposed by cancer doctors, faith based organizations, groups representing people living with disabilities, and people advocating for the poor and uninsured. Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, director of the medical ethics program at Univ. of Cal.-Irvine, said, “You’re seeing the push for assisted suicide from generally white, upper-middle class people, who are least likely to be pressured. You’re not seeing support from the underinsured and the economically marginalized. These people want access to better health care.” He added that those two groups, the low-income and the underinsured, would most likely feel pressure to end their own lives when the cost of continued treatment became exorbitant when compared with the cost of a few lethal pills.
A Gallop poll this year found that almost 70 percent of Americans now support physician-assisted suicide, an increase of 10 percent from last year. The states of Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont allow physicians to prescribe life-ending medication.