Assisted Suicide Bill in California Signed by Gov. Brown

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October 05, 2015

California today became the fifth state in the country to allow physician-assisted suicide when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill approving the controversial, but growing practice, also known as assisted dying.

"I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain," Brown, a former Catholic seminarian, wrote in a signing message. "I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded in this bill.

"And I wouldn't deny that right to others."

The California law is modeled after landmark legislation in Oregon that permits a physician to prescribe a lethal drug to a terminally ill patient — defined as someone with less than 6 months to live — who requests it. However, certain prerequisites must be met, such as counseling on palliative and hospice care, and a determination that the patient is competent and making an independent decision.

Washington and Vermont have enacted their versions of the 21-year-old Oregon law. Physician-assisted suicide also is legal in Montana because its supreme court ruled that nothing in state law prohibits it.

Organized medicine traditionally has opposed physician-assisted suicide, calling it a violation of the profession's imperative to "do no harm." That used to be the stance of the California Medical Association (CMA) as well, but in June, the CMA announced it was taking a neutral position on the physician-assisted suicide bill that state lawmakers eventually passed.

The CMA may be catching up with rank-and-file sentiments. An ethics survey conducted by Medscape last year found that 54% of physicians favored physician-assisted suicide.

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