In November of last year, terminal cancer patient Brittany Maynard moved to Oregon in order to take advantage of the state’s ‘Death with Dignity’ legislation. Her struggle, both with illness and with a legal system that refused to consider assisted suicide in terminal cases, became a national saga over the final months of her life. After Brittany passed, her family stayed resolute in their determination to carry on her legacy by advocating for a right-to-die law in their home state of California.
Governor Jerry Brown signed that bill into law earlier this week.
Brittany Maynard’s family and friends spoke to ABC News after the passage of the law, sharing their pride in Brittany’s strength and their joy that other families might be saved from repeating her struggle. The right for terminal patients to choose the time and manner of their deaths is, for these advocates, a profoundly human right. Death with dignity grants power to the powerless, giving back at least some small measure of control over the final stages of their lives.
Not everyone greeted the new law with relief, however. The Huffington Post reports that while 65 percent of California citizens voiced their support for the right to die, several organizations oppose the legislation and hope to fight for its repeal next year. These groups include Seniors Against Suicide, disability rights advocates, and religious organizations who all oppose the concept of assisted suicide due to either religious beliefs, or fear of the misuse of life-ending drugs.
Many opposition groups claim that right-to-die legislation will lead to disabled or otherwise non-terminal patients being pressured or tricked into assisted suicide by caretakers or family members, but the law does attempt to assuage these concerns. Patients must be given a diagnosis of six months or less to live, and must also make three separate requests for physician-assisted suicide: one written, two oral, with at least two weeks between each.
Ultimately, supporters view California’s new law as an attempt to grant terminal patients and their families a modicum of peace, as well as the chance to die with as much comfort and dignity as possible.
While opposition will continue as more states adopt similar laws, polls suggest it will be an uphill battle.