Society

California's Right-To-Die Law Goes Into Effect

| by Robert Fowler
Right to death advocate Brittany MaynardRight to death advocate Brittany Maynard

A California state law allowing terminally ill residents to end their lives using physician-prescribed medication has gone into effect. The law was passed in response to the story of Brittany Maynard, a California woman who moved to Oregon to seek a legal way of ending her life.

As of June 9, Californians have the legal right to end their lives. The law was enacted by the End of Life Option Act, a bill that the California Legislature passed and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed in October 2015, The Huffington Post reports.

The bill was inspired by the story of 29-year-old Maynard, who wanted to end her life after discovering that she had incurable brain cancer. She had to uproot and move to Oregon, a state in which she could legally acquire medication that would cause her death.

“I am heartbroken that I had to leave behind my home, my community and my friends in California,” Maynard said in late 2014, her words pointed at California lawmakers. “I refuse to subject myself and my family to purposeless, prolonged pain and suffering at the hands of an incurable disease.”

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Both Maynard’s widower, Dan Diaz, and her mother, Debbie Ziegler, become high-profile advocates for California to enact a right-to-die law.

The End of Life Option Act will not allow physicians to indiscriminately dole out life-ending medication to anyone who requests it. Under the law, two doctors must confirm that a patient has a prognosis of six months or less to live.

The patient must then submit a written statement with two witnesses, one of whom cannot be a family member, and then provide two oral requests 15 days apart. The physician must also determine whether or not the patient is mentally competent.

The law does not mandate that all health providers and doctors in California offer life-ending medication. It is a voluntary service, allowing religious health providers to opt out. Several already have.

“As a Catholic health care provider, we believe that intentionally ending a person’s life is not consistent with the core principles of the professions of medicine,” the Providence Health & System announced in a statement, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

One patient who expressed gratitude for the new law is Navy and Army veteran, Matt Fairchild. Suffering from skin, brain and bone cancer, Fairchild has experienced seizures and has chronic pain. He takes 24 pills every day and undergoes immunotherapy.

Fairchild will not seek a life-ending medication just yet, but will use the option if his doctors tell him that the end is imminent.

“This is just medicine added to my list like any other medication,” Fairchild explained. “I want a very legal, and very comfortable exit.”

The first medical practice to offer the service is the Bay Area End of Life Options, headed by Dr. Lonny Shavelson, according to The Washington Times.

“My best-case scenario is that I get zero patients,” Dr. Shavelson said.

Sources: Huffington Post, San Jose Mercury NewsThe Washington Times / Photo credit: Dan Diaz/Huffington Post

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