California is now one of a handful of states that will allow adults suffering from terminal illnesses to end their own lives.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill, known as the "End of Life Option Act" into law on Oct. 5. Authored by state Sens. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and Lois Wolk (D-Davis), the bill would allow mentally competent adults in the final stages of life to request life-ending medication from a doctor, and allow them to self-administer that medication. It was a tough road to get the bill to the governor’s desk, passing both the Senate and Assembly by thin margins. The fight to get the bill passed was hard, but worth it, according to Monning.
“It’s huge,” he said. “This is a historic day for California.”
Under the new law, two physicians must confirm a terminal prognosis, and that the patient must have six months or less to live. The patient must also make one written request and two oral requests a minimum of 15 days apart from each other, with two witnesses present to attest to the requests. Once they receive the medication, only the patients are allowed to administer it to themselves.
Even after the bill passed the Legislature, there was some question about whether Brown would sign it. In a statement released shortly after he signed the bill into law, Brown said he consulted with doctors and religious leaders before deciding to sign the bill.
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Brown wrote. “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.”
Brown wasn’t alone in feeling so close to such an emotional issue. Monning said the bill had a similar impact on other politicians during the legislative process. Many, he said, had experienced someone close to them suffering from a terminal illness.
“Almost without exception, they knew a close family member or friend,” he said.
Among supporters of the bill who aren’t around to see it become law is a former California resident who pushed the issue into the public eye. Brittany Maynard, 29, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, traveled to Portland, Ore., became a resident, and ended her life on Nov. 1, 2014. She reportedly spoke with Brown in the weeks before her death.
“There were some people who fought with us all the way, but sadly weren’t here to see [the bill signed into law],” Monning said.
While the bill is signed, those seeking medication under its auspices still have to wait. The bill was passed during a special extended legislative session. Signed bills won’t go into effect until 90 days after the end of that session, but there is no end date slated for it yet. Monning said the session will end once both houses of the Legislature decide to adjourn. Once those 90 days are up, the law will immediately take effect.
“We don’t know when the session will end,” Monning said. “It’s fair to say that this will be law some time in 2016.”