California became the fifth state in the union to legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients on Monday.
In signing the bill, Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement that he 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," Brown said. "I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I won't deny that right to others."
The bill — approved by California's legislature in September — allows doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients suffering from a terminal illness. The new law is similar to those adopted by Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. A Montana Supreme Court ruling helps protect doctors from prosecution but no physician-assisted suicide laws have been passed.
California's law has several requirements. Among them:
- That the patient be physically and mentally able to take the lethal drug themselves.
- That the patient make two oral requests, at least 15 days apart, and submit several written requests to their physician.
- The requests must be signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses, one of whom can't be a family member.
The bill was controversial in part because it was approved during a special legislative session meant to address funding gaps in Medi-Cal coverage. It had previously stalled during the regular session.
Brown said he weighed the pleas from the family of Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon in order to take end her own life last year after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The Governor, a former Jesuit seminary student, also listened to concerns from a Catholic bishop, two of his own doctors, and friends.
"ABx2 15 is not an ordinary bill because it deals with life and death," Brown said in his statement. "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 Catholic church was a vocal opponent of the bill, arguing that assisted suicide or euthanasia was unwise and flawed public policy. The group said it put vulnerable patients, particularly the elderly, at risk, and validates suicide as a response to personal mental health problems.
In a statement, Tim Rosales, spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide, said Monday was a dark day for California and Brown's legacy.
He also expressed concern that Brown's decision to sign the bill was based on his personal background, which is very different from that of other Californians who don't have the same access to healthcare.
"These are the people and families potentially hurt by giving doctors the power to prescribe lethal overdoses to patients," Rosales said. "At this time, the coalition of organizations opposing assisted suicide is looking at all of its options moving forward."