Lawmakers in California approved legislation Friday that would allow the state to grant terminally ill patients the right to end their own lives legally with prescribed medication.
Under the bill, dubbed "End of Life Option Act," patients with six months or less to live would have the option of authorizing a doctor to administer fatal doses of medicine. It now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has 12 days to sign or veto the bill before it automatically goes into effect in January, according to POLITICO.
The legislation has gotten strong opposition from the Catholic Church and comes before the governor, who is Catholic, just days before Pope Francis' visit to the U.S.
“This bill is for Californians who have been waiting for a compassionate choice [and those] who are suffering fro terminal illnesses and would like another choice beside what is currently available to them,” state Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, the primary sponsor of the bill in the Assembly, said at a press conference after the passage. “That is justice, kindness and compassion.”
The controversial measure was met with opposition from religious groups, hesitant Democrats and advocates for people with disabilities, who argued that it puts terminally ill patients at greater risk of coerced death. The measure passed the state Assembly on Wednesday with 42-33 votes, and in the Senate 23-14.
Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, a prominent opponent of the bill, urged Brown to veto it. He finds the state legislature’s move “deeply” disturbing, saying it would “allow doctors to help their patients kill themselves.”
“Lawmakers did not have any chance to consider the deeper issues raised by end-of-life care in the state — the cost of treatments, especially the cost of cancer medications; insurance practices that limit access to hospice care and physicians’ options in providing adequate pain relief; the impact of this legislation on the poor and other underserved populations,” he wrote in an online op-ed.
If the measure becomes law, the state would join Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, which have similar laws.
The passage of the bill came 10 months after Brittany Maynard, a California woman who was diagnosed with brain cancer, voluntarily ended her life. The 29-year-old had moved from her home in California to Oregon in order to legally end her own life, and her high-profile case has galvanized the "right to die” movement.
A leukemia patient and five physicians filed a lawsuit against California in February, seeking to give doctors the right to help terminally-ill patients end their lives.
Christie White, a 53-year-old cancer patient from San Francisco, sued the state’s attorney general and San Francisco’s top prosecutor. She argued that the act should be considered a “peaceful death,” instead of an assisted suicide.
A judge later dismissed the lawsuit and ruled that the court is not the place to change the law, according to the Associated Press.
Earlier this year, the California Medical Association reversed its three-decade opposition to physician-assisted suicide.