California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that will give residents there the right to seek life-ending drugs from physicians. The bill had been sent to Brown’s office more than two weeks ago after it was passed on a bipartisan vote in the state’s legislature, and the governor had been under intense pressure to veto the measure.
Brown’s signature makes California the fifth state in the country to adopt a physician-assisted suicide law. More important, Brown’s decision to sign will raise the level of the rhetoric surrounding the issue across the country, including Minnesota, where a bill was introduced in the state Senate last spring.
National organizations were quick to jump on Brown’s decision. Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, which opposes the measure, was critical of the legislative process in California and Brown’s decision.
“Under immense pressure from the deceptively name ‘death with dignity’ movement, California lawmakers bypassed the regular legislative process to pass this tragic law,” Donovan said in a statement. “A cynical and short-circuited legislative process reflects precisely the danger of an end to life protocol that will end up short circuiting lives. … That the most populous state in the union has now enshrined this practice in law is a warning sign for the rest of the nation.”
On the other hand, Ronald Lindsay, president of the Center for Inquiry, praised Brown.
“There can be no more intimate, self-defining decision for a person than the decision whether to continue living,” Lindsay said. “Gov. Brown has done the right thing in resisting religious pressure against this bill and we congratulate him for having the wisdom to acknowledge that the difficult choice of a dying person to hasten his or her death cannot be subject to anything beyond the conscience of the individual.”
The debate in Minnesota began in earnest in the spring when Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, introduced a bill to a Senate committee for an “informational hearing,” meaning no vote was taken, and no real legislative process has yet begun.
Even legislators who support the bill, which is based on the law that has been in place in Oregon since 1997, believe that it’s unlikely that there will be an effort to move the bill in Minnesota’s upcoming 2016 session.
Still, Eaton’s move is considered significant because it was the first time an aid-in-dying bill has been presented in the Minnesota legislature.
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, best known for its strong opposition to abortion, this summer held meetings around the state, rallying its 70,000 members to oppose to the legislation.
Meanwhile, the introduction of the bill in Minnesota has raised the profile of the Minnesota Chapter of Compassion & Choices, which supports the measure. Though it doesn’t have the deep political roots that MCCL has, Compassion & Choices leaders have been engaging a cross section of organizations and individuals in conversations about the law.
In Minnesota and elsewhere, both proponents and opponents see aid-in-dying as a fundamental human rights issue.
In most states that have legalized the practice, which allows physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to people in the last stages of terminal illnesses, debate on the issue has lasted for years before being legalized. In California, for example, the measure first was presented, via the petition process, in 1992 and was defeated. For years, the legislature rejected efforts to pass a bill similar to what has now has been signed into law.
In a message that accompanied his signing of the bill, 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 in this bill. And I wouldn’t want to deny that right to others.”