Explaining the Controversy Behind California’s “Right to Die” Legislation

Dec 11, 2015
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On October 5, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a controversial piece of legislation into law that had been dividing the state for well over a year. Known as the “Right to Die” bill, this law allows doctors to prescribe medications for terminally ill patients so that they may take their own life. Although the law won’t officially come into effect until at least January 2016, Governor Brown has opened himself up to quite a bit of criticism, as this law is one of the most controversial pieces of legislation to be passed in the state’s history.

Many religious groups and other organizations have been strongly protesting against this law on the grounds that suicide is immoral and should remain illegal, no matter what the reasons are for it. On the other hand, citizens’ rights advocates had been calling on the Governor to pass the legislation. Their argument is that when a terminally ill individual decides that their pain and suffering is more than they can bear, they should be able to make the decision to end their own life and die on their own terms.

In order to qualify under the terms of the new California law, the patient must be physically capable of administering the drugs themselves. They must also have their request approved by two doctors, and must submit several written requests that need to be signed by two witnesses, one of whom must not be a family member.

Sometimes termed assisted suicide or assisted euthanasia, so-called “right to die” legislation has become something of a hot button issue in the United States over the past few years, with no fewer than 24 states attempting to pass similar legislation over the past year. However, the California case is still unique. Of all the states to introduce this type of legislation in 2015, California is the only one so far where it has actually be signed into law.

Still, this doesn’t mean that California is alone in passing this type of law, as it became the 5th state in the U.S. to allow for physician assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, joining Montana, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. In 1997, Oregon became the first state to pass a right to die law, making it the first place in the world to allow terminally ill patients to end their own life with doctor prescribed lethal medications when the pain and suffering became too much to bear.

Other Countries with Right to Die Legislation

In the United States, only residents of the 5 aforementioned states have the right to physician assisted euthanasia. However, this right is extended to all citizens of a few other countries. In 2001, The Netherlands became the first country in the world to pass this type of legislation, while Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland also have laws on the books that allow for voluntary euthanasia in certain situations.

Canada is currently awaiting the drafting of new legislation that will legalize the procedure in the country. The province of Quebec has had similar legislation on the books since June 2014, but the law is set to expand across the entire country after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in early 2015 that denying the right to assisted suicide is unconstitutional.