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
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).
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.).
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 http://www.scpr.org/news/2016/03/10/58421/assisted-suicide-new-calif-law-to-take-effect-june/
J. October 5, 2015. California governor signs controversial assisted suicide
legislation (updated). KPCC. Retrieved from http://www.scpr.org/news/2015/10/05/54832/california-governor-signs-hard-won-assisted-suicide/