California on Monday became the fifth state to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives using doctor-prescribed drugs, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a controversial bill that was pushed through the state legislature during a special session.
Gov. Jerry Brown, a lifelong Catholic, had not given any indication how he'd side on this issue until his final decision was announced.
In a letter to lawmakers, Brown said he considered arguments from both sides, and consulted a Catholic bishop, two of his doctors, friends and former classmates. And he tried to put himself in terminal patients' place.
"I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain," Brown wrote. "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."
Previous versions of the bill had failed despite lobbying from the mother of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to end her life and campaigned for more lenient right-to-die laws.
In a video recorded days before Maynard took life-ending drugs, she said no one should have to leave home to legally kill themselves under the care of a doctor. Her mother, Maynard's mother, Debbie Ziegler, testified in committee hearings, carrying with her a large picture of her daughter.
Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana have preceded California in allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs. Two dozen or so other states have introduced similar measures this year, but California is the only state where one passed.
Opponents, including religious groups and advocates for people with disabilities said the measure legalized premature suicide, defying the will of God and putting terminally ill patients at risk of forced death.
Supporters argued that the new law applied only to people who were terminally ill and were not depressed or mentally impaired.
Weeks after its defeat, the measure was brought back to the state legislature as part of a special session intended to address funding shortfalls for the state's health insurance program for the poor.
Brown criticized the move, but it passed Sept. 11, and Monday, he signed it.
The law includes safeguards to protect patients against forced death. They must be able to take the medication themselves, with the approval of two doctors and after several written requests. The law also requires two witnesses to the death, only one of whom can be a relative.