Before 29-year-old Brittany Maynard took the medication that would end her life, she spent an hour on the phone with California Governor Jerry Brown. The young California woman urged him to help pass “Right-to-Die” legislation in California, the same type of law that allowed her to peacefully take her own life, surrounded by friends and family, in Oregon.
In recent years, euthanasia advocates have tried to re-brand the procedure, instead arguing for a right-to-die or “death with dignity” laws. Maynard suffered from terminal brain cancer herself, and was a passionate proponent of laws that allow people with terminal illnesses to end their life on their own terms.
Now, Gov. Brown has a right-to-die bill waiting for his signature, and the country is waiting to see what he will do. This September, the California legislature approved the End of Life Option Act, which is as controversial as any physician-assisted suicide bill. Many Americans, particularly in the pro-life movement, believe the practice is immoral.
The right-to-die bill is starting some uncomfortable conversations in some American households. Many Americans have no will or end-of-life plan in place, leaving their relatives to plan funerals, pick out caskets, or find cremation urns for ashes while struggling with grief.
“Whether we support physician assisted suicide or not the reality is that many Americans are uncomfortable talking about death,” says Ira Woods, President, OneWorld Memorials. “Stories abound of people unprepared for dying who inadvertently cause their families to go through very difficult situations. Why? Because they wouldn’t discuss the possibility. Perhaps if the death conversation was not so taboo we might even have a better understanding why someone could justifiably choose physician assisted suicide.”
The California bill was modeled after Oregon’s law, which requires that two doctors separately confirm the terminal illness diagnosis with a life expectancy of less than six months. In addition, the patient must be mentally sound and capable of administering the fatal medication on their own. There’s also a sunset provision, meaning the law will have to be reauthorized after a decade.
The California governor has 12 days to sign or veto the bill. If he does nothing, it will take effect without his approval. If it goes into effect, California would become the fourth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide.