Caught between conflicting moral arguments, Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminary student, signed a measure Monday allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who want to hasten their deaths.
Brown appeared to struggle in deciding whether to approve the bill, whose opponents included the Catholic Church.
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Brown wrote in a signing message. “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. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
The new law is modeled after one that went into effect in 1997 in Oregon, where last year 105 people took their lives with drugs prescribed for that purpose.
The California law will permit physicians to provide lethal prescriptions to mentally competent adults who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and face the expectation that they will die within six months.
The law will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns its special session on healthcare, which may not be until next year — January at the earliest, November at the latest.
The governor’s action caps months of emotional and contentious debate over the End of Life Option Act, which divided physicians, ethicists, religious leaders and the Democratic majority in the Legislature.
Tim Rosales, a spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide, which includes doctors, advocates for the disabled, the California Catholic Conference and other religious groups, criticized Brown’s action.
“This is a dark day for California and for the Brown legacy,” Rosales said. “As someone of wealth and access to the world’s best medical care and doctors, the governor’s background is very different than that of millions of Californians living in healthcare poverty without that same access — these are the people and families potentially hurt by giving doctors the power to prescribe lethal overdoses to patients.”
Catholic Church officials, when asked for comment, said Rosales would speak for them. Rosales said the coalition is considering its options, including a lawsuit and a referendum.
Brown said he weighed the religious arguments.
The bill “is not an ordinary bill because it deals with life and death,” Brown wrote. “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 issues raised by the legislation are personal ones for Brown, who has survived multiple brushes with cancer and has lost family members. Death has been a source of humor, such as in May when he ruminated on the pointlessness of pursuing perfect solutions in an imperfect world.
“It’s messy, there’s suffering, and in the end we all die,” Brown said in a speech to a business group. “When you’re 77, by the way, that’s something that’s a little more imminent.”
He had a small basal cell carcinoma removed from near his right ear in 2008, and in 2011 he had a cancerous growth removed from his nose. The year after that, Brown was treated for early stage prostate cancer. When the treatment ended, the governor told reporters, “I’m rarin’ to go. Don’t expect me to leave too soon.”
Brown said Monday that he carefully considered input from doctors, including two of his own, a Catholic bishop and advocates for the disabled, as well as pleas from the family of Brittany Maynard, a cancer victim who took her own life. He said he also considered input favoring the bill from retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“I have considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one’s life is sinful,” he wrote.
Click here to read more.