California Becomes Fifth State to Pass Right to Die Legislation
California passed landmark ‘right to die’ legislation last October that will allow terminally ill patients to receive life-ending drugs from their doctors. Now, those who want to request these drugs have an official date when they can do so. California joins Vermont, Oregon, Washington, and Montana to become the fifth state to pass this type of legislation.
The End of Life Option Act will go into effect on June 9, per the 90-day waiting period after the legislative “extraordinary session” adjourned Wednesday.
“Now that the Second Extraordinary Session has been adjourned, terminally ill Californians will finally be able to exercise this right in the State of California,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning said. “Californians will no longer have to leave the state, their families, and their friends if they choose to exercise the end of life option in their final days of life.”
The law requires those seeking end of life treatment to be cleared by two physicians who agree that the patient has six months or less to live. It also requires patients to be able to swallow the medication themselves and affirm in writing that they will do so 48 hours prior to taking the medication. This ensures that the individual is aware of the decision that they are making.
This issue gained notoriety following the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with terminal brain cancer who moved to Oregon in order to legally end her life in 2014. She created a video documenting her experience leading up to her death and impassioned many lawmakers and citizens to consider the issue.
Opponents of the law, however, believe that this legislation could lead to premature suicides. The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), an advocate against legalizing assisted suicide, cites many reasons and alternatives that can be done instead of turning to right to die laws:
It is legal in every U.S. state for an individual to create an advance directive that requires the withdrawal of treatment under any conditions the person wishes and for a patient to refuse any treatment or to require any treatment to be withdrawn… And perhaps least understood, for anyone who is dying in discomfort, it is currently legal in any U.S. state to receive palliative sedation, wherein the dying person is sedated so discomfort is relieved during the dying process.
The group also argues that the legalization of assisted suicide will lead to premature suicides of individuals suffering from mental health issues. It is important to note, though, that an individual requesting these services must be cleared by two physicians certifying that they are terminally ill, not just suffering from certain mental health problems.
“We are looking ahead at measures to protect people from abuse,” Marilyn Golden–a policy analyst at DREDF–told the Associated Press, “and to explore and inform doctors, nurses, and pharmacists that they don’t have to participate.”
Her statement is true; religious institutions, like Catholic hospitals, can opt out and ban their physicians from administering medications for assisted suicide, according to the law.
However, many were very happy with the outcome, which was long awaited. “It gives me a great peace of mind to know that I will not be forced to die slowly and painfully,” Elizabeth Wallner said in a statement from Compassion & Choices, an aid-in-dying advocacy group. She is a single mother with stage four colon cancer that has spread to other organs.
Christy O’Donnell, a former LAPD Sergeant and activist who worked hard to get the legislation passed, died of lung cancer last month. Senator Monning thanked her and others who helped support the bill now that the legislation is scheduled to take effect. “I really believe we use today to mark and dedicate the memory… of some true champions,” Monning said.