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Gov. Brown Signs End of Life Option Act, Legalizing Assisted Suicide for Terminally Ill

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As Gov. Jerry Brown pointed out Monday, the End of Life Option Act is not just any other piece of legislation: By definition, it’s a matter of life and death.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an unusually personal signing statement with his approval of the End of Life Option Act on Oct. 5, 2015.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an unusually personal signing statement with his approval of the End of Life Option Act on Oct. 5, 2015.

“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,” Brown said in an unusual signing message, “no matter how great his pain and suffering.”

The California governor made his perspective clear and the message and by signing the controversial legislation Monday.

Until then, Brown hadn’t indicated where he stood on the issue. Until he explained that his decision was personal, based on his reflections “on what I would want in the face of my own death.”

“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” he wrote in the message, addressed to state Assembly members. “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.”

Brittany Maynard championed movement

For decades, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was the American face of the movement known as “right to die” or “assisted suicide.” The Michigan pathologist not only pushed for “right-to-die” legislation, he also helped several patients die — including one that led to a 1999 conviction on second-degree murder charges stemming from the death of a patient who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Brittany Maynard is seen in a family photo. (Courtesy: Brittany Maynard)

Brittany Maynard is seen in a family photo. (Courtesy: Brittany Maynard)

But last year, it was Brittany Maynard who brought the issue to the national consciousness. She learned on New Year’s Day 2014 that she had brain cancer. And a few months later, she decided to move from California to Oregon so that she could legally take medication to end her life — all before her 30th birthday.

“I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity,” Maynard wrote in a CNN.com opinion piece. “My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?”

Maynard died last November. Her last few months might have been different had California had the same legislation that it has now.

Supporters sign an oversized petition in favor of death with dignity laws in California at a rally in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 30, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

Supporters sign an oversized petition in favor of death with dignity laws in California at a rally in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 30, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

Others championed that cause after her death.

There were many, though, that opposed the effort and urged Brown to veto the legislation. They included those tied to Californians Against Assisted Suicide, whose spokesman Tim Rosales said that many were against the effort, including “progressive legislators representing low-income districts.”

On its website, Californians Against Assisted Suicide lists dozens of organization opposed to the bill Brown signed Monday. They include the American Academy of Medical Ethics, the American Medical Association, the California Catholic Conference, the Disability Rights Center and many others.

“We all know that ‘choice’ is a myth in the context of our unjust health care reality,” the group said after the state Senate passed the bill last month. “End-of-life treatment options are already limited for millions of people — constrained by poverty, disability discrimination, and other obstacles.

“Adding this so-called ‘choice’ into our dysfunctional health care system will push people into cheaper lethal options.”