Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill that legalizes assisted suicide in the state of California. According to the Los Angeles Times, the bill will permit “physicians to provide lethal prescriptions to mentally competent adults who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and face the expectation that they will die in six months.” The legislation was signed on October 5th and will go into effect ninety days after state Legislature ends its session on healthcare, which may not happen until as late as November of next year. According to the New York Times, the California law is modeled after the one currently in place in Oregon.
Governor Brown carefully considered input from proponents of the bill, including two of his doctors who treated him when he had cancer at different points in his life and the family of Brittany Maynard, a terminal cancer patient who left California to legally take her life in Oregon. He also took an equal amount of consideration from the numerous opponents to this bill, which include several different advocacy groups for the disabled and the Catholic church.
The Foghorn staff has reached the consensus that any legislation which directly affects the length of someone’s life is a unique issue because there is nothing as private as an individual’s decisions about the quality of their life. To choose to live in pain or to die quickly when faced with terminal illness is a decision that is so intensely personal that allowing the government (on a state or federal level) to prevent assisted suicide is a serious overreach of their power. For most issues, having government involvement regarding societal improvement and personal health is appropriate, even necessary, for a healthy society. Examples include the recent SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage and the implementation of universal healthcare. However, the government should not be able to restrict you or punish you for making decisions about the quality of your life.
All of our staff members believe that assisted suicide should be legalized for terminally ill people who truly believe that it is the only option they have left.
Some members on staff wanted to raise a few questions about this issue. While the legality of assisted suicide is important, we would like to know this process would actually play out between doctor and patient. Will the patient receive a list of alternative options before going through with their request? Once this piece of legislation goes into effect and considering how much power is being granted to doctors, how will the physicians who agree to carry out this process be kept in check? What forms of regulation will exist to make sure this process does not become corrupted? What will the effects be on doctors who do not agree, for personal or religious reasons, with this bill?
The topic of assisted suicide is incredibly difficult to discuss, as there are so many moral and ethical qualms to the issue. However, terminally ill citizens’ should have right to die on their own terms and the right to exert control in their lives one last time. Government restrictions on assisted suicide should be minimized.