- The Washington Times - Monday, October 5, 2015

California’s wrenching yearlong legislative debate over the right to die culminated Monday with Gov. Jerry Brown signing into law a bill making California the fifth state to permit physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

As a Democrat and former Catholic seminarian, Mr. Brown was caught between two opposing sides of the right-to-die debate, and had given little indication of whether he would sign the bill before it reached his desk in early September.

“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Mr. Brown said in his signing statement. “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.”

Groups like Not Dead Yet and Californians Against Assisted Suicide had joined the Catholic Church in opposing the legislation, arguing that it would place pressure on the ill and disabled to end their lives rather than run up large health insurance bills.

“This is a dark day for California and for the Brown legacy,” said Californians Against Assisted Suicide spokesman Tim Rosales in a statement.

“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 — these are the people and families potentially hurt by giving doctors the power to prescribe lethal overdoses to patients,” Mr. Rosales said.

Oregon became the first state to legalize assisted suicide for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in 1994, followed by Washington and Vermont. The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that physicians may prescribe lethal drugs to the competent terminally ill.

The was thrust back in the limelight this year after the highly publicized case of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who moved from California to Oregon to end her life after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

“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,” Mr. Brown said in his statement.

“I have carefully read the thoughtful opposition materials presented by a number of doctors, religious leaders and those who champion disability rights,” he said. “I have considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one’s life is sinful.”

Mr. Brown said he also discussed the End of Life Option Act with “a Catholic Bishop, two doctors and former classmates and friends who take varied, contradictory and nuanced positions.”

Foes of the legislation argued that state Democrats gamed the process by introducing the bill during a special session designed to deal with Medi-Cal funding, rather than during the regular legislative session, when the matter would have received a more thorough hearing.

In fact, a nearly identical bill died earlier this year after stalling in the Assembly Health Committee and under enormous public opposition from religious and disabled rights groups, despite strong Democratic support in the state Assembly and Senate.

Democratic state Sen. Lois Wolk, a supporter of Assembly Bill 2x-15, posted a message shortly after the bill-signing saying, “Thank you Governor Brown for providing all Californians the right to a peaceful death. History was made today.”

Supporters of right-to-die legislation predicted that the California bill would have a ripple effect in other state legislatures.

“The Governor’s decision is certain to reverberate across the nation,” said George Eighmey, vice president of the Death with Dignity Political Fund in a fundraising appeal issued Monday.

“More remains to be done in California to ensure smooth implementation of the law and even more in 46 additional states that do not have a Death with Dignity law,” he said. “But for now, please join us in celebrating freedom winning the day.”

While the Maynard case re-energized the right-to-die debate, Californians have been wrestling with the issue for more than two decades. Voters rejected an assisted suicide ballot measure in 1992, while the state legislature had repeatedly rejected previous bills.

The newly signed law takes effect 90 days after the end of the special legislative session, which could extend until after the start of the year.

Mr. Rosales said the coalition opposing assisted suicide is “reviewing all of its options,” which could include a statewide ballot measure to repeal the law.

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