September 9, 2015
While assisted suicide is and has been a fairly common practice around the world, it has remained the subject of much debate in the United States for well over 100 years. It was not until 1994, when Oregon passed the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, that a state officially legalized the practice under certain conditions. Oregon remained alone in its initiative until 2008, when Washington passed its own Death With Dignity Act ─ modeled around Oregon’s bill from 14 years prior.
Until recently, Vermont and Montana were the only other two states following in these footsteps ─ though the ruling in Montana is unique in that it requires court approval.
As a topic of heated debate, assisted suicide is met and opposed with great passion from human rights groups and religious organizations — and understandably so. The subject of life, death, and the way one goes about embracing their own mortality is not black and white. Surely, legislatures were aware of this when developing the bill, as it doesn’t simply allow anybody with a death wish to receive lethal doses of medication.
California’s new End of Life Option Act lays down a list of requirements a patient must meet in order to be eligible. First, two doctors are required to confirm the patient is indeed terminally ill and has six months or less to live. Second, the patient must be capable of swallowing the medication themselves, as another person administering the medication would fall under the definition of euthanasia rather than assisted suicide. Third, it must be confirmed that the patient is not under any duress or pressure from friends or family members to take their own life. The decision must be the patient’s and the patient’s alone. Lastly, the patient is required to be in good mental health to be considered capable of properly making such a drastic decision.
To put it simply, this bill appears to have been written for the truly sick — people who are in physical and mental pain and watching the clock tick their lives away. It is for people who are dying, have accepted that they are going to die, and prefer to have a say in when that will be.
Still, the issue is not black and white. In fact, Governor Brown wasn’t quick to make a decision, as he himself opposes assisted suicide. Though he signed the bill into a law, in a letter to the California State Assembly, Brown wrote,
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
The End of Life Option Act will go into effect at the start of 2016.
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