By Farzana Paleker

California joined Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont as the fifth state to legalize physician-assisted death when Governor Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act on October fifth. The legislation was propelled to the top of California’s public consciousness following the highly publicized death of Brittany Maynard.

In 2014, 29-year-old Maynard moved from California to Oregon after being diagnosed with incurable brain cancer to take advantage of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act. Many campaigned for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide following her death in November of last year.

“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,”  Governor Jerry Brown expressed in a letter addressed to California state lawmakers.

Brown, a 77-year-old Democrat, a lifelong Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian said he acted after discussing the issue with many people, including two of his own doctors. He explained that his decision was personal, based on what he thinks he would want in the face of his own death. After much reflection, he concluded that the opportunity to make these tough decisions is a right that should not be denied to people.

Californians Against Assisted Suicide, an alliance opposed to the measure, called this rationale flawed. According to this group, policymakers have not considered how the law will affect the disadvantaged. ‘’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 health care poverty without that same access,’’ said the coalition. They warn that there are people and families, particularly those from low-income groups, who could be hurt by giving doctors the power to prescribe lethal overdoses to patients.

Other groups who opposed the effort and urged Brown to veto the legislation include the American Academy of Medical Ethics, the American Medical Association, the California Catholic Conference and the Disability Rights Center. According to Californians Against Assisted Suicide, ‘’choice is a myth in the context of our unjust health care reality. End-of-life treatment options are already limited for millions of people – constrained by poverty, disability discrimination, and other obstacles.’’

The legislation was however welcomed by Compassion and Choices, the website dedicated to Maynard’s memory. Maynard had pleaded that terminally ill people should have the right to choose a ‘’death with dignity.’’ She believed that they should be able to plan for a ‘’gentle death’’ in their own homes and communities. Her last few days might have been different had California had the same legislation that it has now.

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