SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday making California the fifth state in the nation to recognize a right to die for terminally ill patients, saying the emotionally charged bill forced him to consider “what I would want in the face of my own death.”
Brown, a lifelong Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian, said he acted after discussing the issue with many people, including a Catholic bishop and two of his own doctors.
“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,” the governor wrote in a signing statement that accompanied his signature.
The governor said he would not deny those comforts to others.
The statement was Brown’s first comment on the bill, which will allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives using doctor-prescribed drugs. The measure applies only to mentally sound people and not those who are depressed or impaired.
State lawmakers passed the bill last month. A previous version failed earlier this year despite the highly publicized case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to end her life.
The measure was brought back as part of a special session intended to address funding shortfalls for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor.
Maynard’s family attended the legislative debate in California throughout the year. Her mother, Debbie Ziegler, testified in committee hearings and carried a large picture of her daughter.
In a video recorded days before Maynard took life-ending drugs, she told California lawmakers that the terminally ill should not have to “leave their home and community for peace of mind, to escape suffering and to plan for a gentle death.”
Religious groups, including the Catholic church, and advocates for people with disabilities opposed the measure, saying it legalizes premature suicide puts terminally ill patients at risk for coerced death.
The bill includes requirements that patients be physically capable of taking the medication themselves, that two doctors approve it, that the patients submit several written requests and that there be two witnesses, one of whom is not a family member.
At least two dozen states introduced right-to-die legislation this year, though the measures stalled elsewhere. Doctors in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana already can prescribe life-ending drugs.
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