With the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown Monday, California became the fifth state in the country to allow medically assisted suicide as an option for those diagnosed with a terminal illness, defined in the law as having six months or less to live.
The decision did not come easily for Brown, who was once a Catholic seminary student. The bill sat on his desk for two weeks while he sought outside input and tried to think the issue through. Long before the law was even introduced, in fact, his advisors included Brittany Maynard (pictured above), a 29-year-old Californian diagnosed with terminal brain cancer who was forced to move to Oregon to take advantage of its end-of-life process. She talked with Brown last November, three days before she ended her life.
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Brown explained in a signing message. “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 afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
We talk a lot about freedom in this country, often in vague, almost theoretical terms. But I think the freedom now available to Californians, which includes significant safeguards against abuse, is important. Yes, it’s a choice fraught with moral, religious and practical concerns, but as Brown eventually concluded, it is a choice that mentally competent human beings faced with an imminent, probably painful and extended death ought to be able to make for themselves rather than have it dictated to them by outsiders.