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Sunday, April 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Gov. Brown Signs Right-to-Die Bill

SACRAMENTO (CN) - California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday to allow dying patients to receive lethal medication and end their own lives.

After weeks of speculation, Brown - a Catholic - said he chose to sign the contentious bill after consulting with his own doctors and a Catholic bishop.

"I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain," Brown said in a letter to the state Assembly. "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."

With Brown's approval, California becomes the fifth state with similar laws or court orders allowing physicians to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients.

The End of Life Option Act narrowly passed special-session votes in the Assembly 42-33 and the Senate 23-14 on Sep. 11.

Following the bill's passage in the state Senate, Brown refused to comment on the issue or discuss the Catholic Church's strong opposition. However, his office criticized lawmakers for inserting the bill in a special session, tweeting that the measure should be heard in a full legislative session.

The initial bill, Senate bill 128, was tabled by its Democratic authors in July due to a lack of support and strong opposition by Catholics. Lawmakers reintroduced the bill in August, taking advantage of Brown's special session on health care.

Opponents blasted the bill's authors for using a loophole that fast-tracked it through the Assembly health committee, where it stalled in July.

The bill - now titled AB X2-15 - was inspired by Brittany Maynard, a California resident who moved to Oregon to legally receive lethal medication and end her battle with brain cancer. The End of Life Option Act's authors claim the bill contains improved safeguards regarding the prescriptions of the deadly drugs and that a majority of Californians support an assisted-death provision.

A recent statewide poll found 69 percent of California voters support the bill, including 60 percent of Catholic voters. The bill will take effect 90 days after the special session on health care is finished.

Brown, 77, studied to enter priesthood decades ago and was implored by religious leaders to veto the controversial bill. In a personal signing message, Brown wrote "AB X2-15 is not an ordinary bill because it deals with life and death," and that he considered the "heartfelt pleas" from Maynard's family.

"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, no matter how great his pain or suffering," Brown wrote.

Californians Against Assisted Suicide told Courthouse News in a statement that it's considering its options moving forward and that Monday is a "dark day for California and for the Brown Legacy."

"Gov. Brown was clear in his statement that this was based on his personal background. As someone of wealth and access to the world's best medical care and doctors the governor's background is very different than that of millions of Californians living in health care poverty without that same access - these are the people and families potentially hurt by giving doctors the power to prescribe lethal overdoses to patients," the group said in opposition.

Several Democratic members voted against the bill along with a majority of Republicans, with both citing religious or moral reasons for their opposition.

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