March 28, 2016 Vineet Tummala
An Update on California's Right to Die Bill
On October 5, 2015, California became the fifth state (after Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and Montana) to legalize euthanasia, also known as physician-assisted suicide. This law, called the "right to die bill", will go into effect on June 9 to allow physicians to prescribe lethal drugs to patients with terminal illness. If a patient is terminally ill, has less than six months to live, provides written requests, and has the consent of two doctors, he or she can end life with medical aid. The subject of euthanasia has been debated in California congress for the last two decades, but the story of Brittany Maynard inspired the signing of the bill. Brittany was a 29 year old teacher living in San Francisco when she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She was enduring extreme pain and decided to end her life with dignity instead of dying a painful death. Unfortunately, Brittany had to move to Oregon to receive the lethal drugs. This story sparked outrage among many end-of-life advocates and within a year, a right to die bill supported by three-fourths of Californians was signed by Governor Jerry Brown.
Governor Brown, despite being Catholic, stated that while he considered the religious and theological objections to this bill, they were not enough to make him veto it. In a statement to the California State Assembly, Governor Brown acknowledged the comfort in having the option of physician assisted suicide and said that he would not deny this right to others. The American Civil Liberties Union and Faye Girsh of Final Exit Network believe that patients have the right not to suffer. In fact, they believe that the government is committing a crime by making terminally ill patients suffer by not providing the option of physician assisted suicide. Over ten percent of Americans suffer from terminal illness and this California measure provides an extra option to these patients.
However, the right to die bill has a lot of opposition. The Catholic Church, which believes that life is a God given gift that only God can take away, has called the bill immoral and attractive due to the high cost of palliative treatment. The International Task Force and Wesley Smith of the Discovery Institute of Forced Exit fear that doctors will begin to promote death over treatment to save money. The right to die bill addresses this opposition by providing religious institutions the right to not participate in physician-assisted suicide.
Despite the controversy about physician-assisted suicide across the country and world, there is no denying the fact that it is now legal in California. The debates about assisted suicide will continue as lawmakers in the other 45 states continue to discuss the positives and negatives of the right to die bill. However, these states will now have to consider that the most populated state, California, has made physician-assisted suicide legal. In fact, over 20 states recently considered implementing a right to die bill. While we might never know if prescribing lethal drugs to terminally ill patients is moral or not, we do know that it is currently legal in five states in America.