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March 23, 2016
by Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

Assisted Suicide Legalized in California with Ensuing Controversy

March 23, 2016 16:00 by Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

Any legislation involving the matter of life and death has to be emotionally charged and controversial.  For more than a decade, the subject of euthanasia has sparked much debate among various patient rights advocacy groups and religious leaders in terms of its moral, ethical, and legal grounds and ramifications. The practice of deliberately ending a life in order to relieve pain or suffering is unarguably debatable.

After many trying years of stalling, however, Governor Jerry Brown has finally signed the law which will legalize physician-aided suicide in the state of California.

This new legislature marks a significant victory for the death-with-dignity movement most actively sponsored by Compassion & Choices, the main advocacy group that has lobbied for the law for more than a decade.

When the law takes effect on June 9, 2016, California will become the fifth state in the nation to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives using doctor-prescribed drugs.

Doctors in California will then be joining those in Oregon, Washington and Vermont who already can prescribe life-ending drugs. In Montana, while doctors are not legally authorized to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients, the state's supreme court has ruled in 2009 that a patient's consent to doctor-assisted suicide is an acceptable defense which could potentially protect a physician from being charged with homicide (Lin, 2015).  

New Guidelines

Under the new law, a terminally ill patient can request that his/her doctors prescribe life-ending drugs albeit with certain pre-conditions.

The patient has to be diagnosed as having less than six months or less to live and he/she has to be deemed mentally competent by the attending physician to make an informed decision and physically capable of taking the fatal drugs on his/her own (Glickman, 2016).

In addition, the prescribing doctor must obtain confirmation of said conditions (including the diagnosis and prognosis as well as the patient's mental and physical competency) from a second/another physician prior to prescribing the medication.

Once confirmed, the patient must make two oral requests at least 15 days apart followed by a written request in the presence of at least two witnesses one of whom may not be a relative or family member (ibid.).

Ensuing Controversy

Despite the passage of the legislation, there are many clashing views and arguments galore about the justification of the law.

While proponents of euthanasia rights are claiming that patients are now finally able to die with dignity by asserting their personal autonomy, the Catholic Church and other religious opponents keep maintaining their adamant position that assisted suicide goes against the will of God and sanctity of life.

Compassion & Choices, one of the most active advocacy groups, argues that terminally ill patients have rights to choose aid in dying just as much as they are entitled to receiving quality palliative care. Now under state and federal constitutional protections, the group is continually advocating for the patient’s rights to voluntarily opt out of life-sustaining treatments.


With the new legislation going into effect, there may be more questions than answers.

The law appears to be pushing for premature death for terminally ill patients by expediting the process of what should be a natural course of life. For some people, this pro-choice legislation may be construed as a direct violation of human life and its intrinsic value. Questions remain as to how assisted suicide can be a better alternative to supportive pain and symptom management.

Laden with emotional sensitivity, the new law could only engender more confusion but it simultaneously compels us to reassess the way we honor the precious gift of life with all of the possible choices therein.

If anything, the new law invites us to at least consider and undergo due process requisite for the best course of action warranted as we proactively learn about different options available.

After all, life is irreplaceable and its finale is irreversible.


Glickman, P. March 10 2016. Assisted suicide: New California law to take effect June 9. KPCC. Retrieved from

Lin, J. October 5, 2015. California governor signs controversial assisted suicide legislation (updated). KPCC. Retrieved from

About the Author

Dr. Agnes Oh Dr. Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

Dr. Agnes Oh is dually licensed as a clinical psychologist and a marriage and family therapist in the state of California, fully committed to helping each individual to maximize his/her intrinsic potential to heal, grow, and thrive.

Dr. Agnes Oh has a clinical practice in Glendale, CA

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