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The California legislature provided a major victory to advocates in the right to die movement recently when it passed legislation that will allow physicians to assist terminally ill patients end their lives.

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Although the End of Life Option Act has passed the state Assembly and the Senate, it is still unclear whether Governor Jerry Brown will sign or veto the legislation.

If signed into law, the bill will provide patients with options for assistance in dying provided at least two doctors have given them six months or less to live. The law also requires the patient to submit one written and two oral requests to a designated authority at least 15 days apart.  In addition, the patient must prove he/she has the mental capacity to make their own health care related decisions.

Anyone who has supported a loved one as he/she transitioned from this life due to a devastating terminal illness probably sympathized with the young lady who inspired this legislation. Last year, 29 year old Brittany Maynard a resident of northern California moved to Oregon after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. During her ordeal, Maynard expressed sadness at having to leave everything and most everyone she loved behind in California so she could have some control over when and how her life would end in light of her terminal condition.

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There are ethical considerations that weigh heavily on both sides of the right to die argument; but, in my humble opinion, in the final analysis—it should be left to the individual. Just as Maynard refused to subject herself and her family to what she defined as purposeless, prolonged pain and suffering at the hands of an incurable disease, I believe those who choose this approach should have that option right here in California.

This was the second time this year the legislature attempted to pass such an initiative. The original legislation although passed by the senate in June, never left committee because of strong lobbying opposition from the Roman Catholic Church.

The new law will make California the fourth state to take such legislative action. The other states include Oregon, Vermont and Washington. The right to physician assisted suicide was also ruled on by the Montana Supreme Court which determined there is nothing in Montana law that precludes it. As part of its ruling, the Montana Supreme Court also determined a terminally ill patient’s consent served as a statutory defense to a homicide charge against any doctor who assisted.

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According to Gallup, only a small majority of Americans support assisted suicide.

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Here in California arguments against the right to die will most assuredly continue to be waged. In addition to the Roman Catholic Church there are those who believe America’s for-profit health care system could provide too much latitude with the implementation of such legislation. They claim what might start as a good intentioned process for doctor assisted suicides could easily slip from freedom of choice and become the only option for poor and disenfranchised individuals. However, this argument may pale over time as this has certainly not proven to be the case in states where right to die laws already exists.    

Since the law went into effect in Oregon in 1997, approximately 1,200 individuals have requested prescriptions to end their lives; however, only 752 have actually follow through, taken the prescriptions and died. According to the Oregon Health Authority, others died sooner and some changed their minds.

Although some Oregonians initially expressed similar concerns about its poor and disenfranchised citizens being at risk, in November 2014, the Oregon Health Authority confirmed that has not proven to be the case.

According to Gallup, only a small majority of Americans support assisted suicide.

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BVN Contributor: S.E. Williams[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

S.E. Williams

Stephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager...