California Governor Jerry Brown has a bill on his desk that would make California the fifth state in the country to all terminally ill person to end their own lives assisted by drugs prescribed by a doctor. He must act on it in the next few days or it automatically becomes law. Brown’s position is unknown though media reports say he was concerned that the bill passed in a special session. The bill passed the California Assembly last week by a 47-34 vote. It had passed the California Senate earlier. The bill allows persons who are determined by medical personnel to have less than six months to live to end their lives. The bill describes the consent by the person seeking to end their life and other issues related to witnesses.
There have been a number concerns expressed about right to die laws. One is to make provisions for mental health counseling to persons who may be depressed and choose to end their lives. Another concern is the disposition of the lethal drugs which may be given and never used or be left over. Also, a doctor in Oregon has noted that the law there has changed the relationship between doctors and some older patients who are concerned about “death doctors” as some call those doctors known to be involved in helping a person end their life. Opponents of the California law argued that the poor, vulnerable and elderly could be pressured by family members to take their lives rather than pursue more aggressive treatments. Advocates say the bill gives persons in pain a choice on how and when to end their suffering.
Opponents of the bill led by the Catholic Church, disability organizations and hospice supporters argue that hospice care can provide comfort to dying persons. Oregon passed the bill last year . Vermont, Montana and Washington State also allow persons to end their lives. A New York bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and Senators Diane Savino and Brad Hoylman is expected to be more vigorously pushed in 2016. Opponents are holding a training on the issue in Albany on November 7th to prepare to defeat the bill.
An effort to pass a ballot measure in Massachusetts on this issue narrowly failed in 2014. Interestingly, the rural areas of the state supported the measure but the eastern, more urban areas voted against it, seemingly reflecting stronger influences by religious and ethnic factors in those areas and perhaps a more libertarian approach in smaller towns.
There needs to be a full public debate on the New York bill so that advocates for it justify why hospice care and the use of drugs legally prescribed should not be fully utilized.