(Sacramento, Calif. – Oct. 5, 2015) Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of California’s End of Life Option Act today should spur legislators in other states to advance bills to allow terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying to end unbearable suffering, advocates say.
The bill’s signing into law comes one year after Brittany Maynard and her family launched a partnership with Compassion & Choices on Oct. 6, 2014, to authorize this end-of-life option in California and other states nationwide. Maynard was a 29-year-old Californian who brought international attention to the issue when she had to move to Oregon to utilize its death-with-dignity law, which she utilized to end her suffering from terminal brain cancer on Nov. 1, 2014.
“This is the biggest victory for the death-with-dignity movement since Oregon passed the nation’s first law two decades ago,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, a lawyer, former ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant, who coauthored the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.
“This victory is hugely significant in both substance and scope,” Coombs Lee observed. “Enactment of this law in California means we are providing this option to more than 1 in 10 Americans.”
Three out of four Californians (76%) support the End of Life Option Act (ABX2-15), according to a poll released last month by the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) at the University of California, Berkeley. Support levels include 82 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents, 67 percent of Republicans and at least 69 percent across all other demographic categories, from gender to educational, income and age levels.
Compassion & Choices’ campaigners, political strategists, legislative champions, including Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman and Senators Bill Monning and Lois Wolk, and powerful storytellers overcame numerous obstacles to facilitate the passage of the End of Life Option Act through the legislature in a remarkably short time period of eight months. A key to victory was the California Medical Association’s decision in June to withdraw its decades-long opposition to medical aid in dying. Compassion & Choices organized physicians in California as part of its nationwide Doctors for Dignity campaign to advocate for revising the aid-in-dying policy of the CMA and other medical organizations. The CMA’s resistance to this end-of-life option had doomed the six prior ballot and legislative efforts to authorize it since 1988.
“What we have done in the legislature has only been possible because of what Compassion & Choices has organized throughout the state and throughout the nation,” said Senator Bill Monning, a primary coauthor of the law. (See video of this soundbite after the legislature passed the bill at 13:30 mark: bit.ly/Sept14newsconf.)
“The seventh attempt was the charm to authorize medical aid in dying in California thanks to the inspirational voices of Brittany Maynard, her family and other advocates with heartbreaking stories of end-of-life suffering,” said Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “They refused to take no for an answer.”
The news of the bill signing brought tears of joy to Christy O’Donnell, a 47-year-old single mom from Santa Clarita dying from lung, brain, spine, rib and liver cancer. She testified in support of the bill before the Senate and the Assembly. Christy’s doctors say she will likely die painfully within the next few months from the rapidly spreading cancer.
“I’m overjoyed for all the terminally ill people in California, who can now relax knowing they finally have the choice of aid in dying as one of their end-of-life options! No more worrying that they will suffer great physical and emotional pain at the end of their life when they have already suffered painfully for so long as a result of their terminal illnesses,” O’Donnell said. “Governor Brown, you have made me a proud Californian today knowing I live in a state where our governor acts in accordance with what his people need, want, and deserve. In this case, a peaceful and pain free death with their family.”
Gov. Brown’s signing of the End of Life Option Act follows the Senate passage of the bill by a vote of 23 to 15 on Sept. 11. Two days earlier, the Assembly passed the legislation with bipartisan support, 44 to 35.
“I am extremely grateful to the governor for his leadership and signing this vital piece of legislation. My wife, Brittany Maynard, spoke up last year to make a difference for terminally ill individuals who are facing a potentially harsh dying process,” said Maynard’s husband, Dan Diaz, who lives in Alamo. Diaz testified before the Assembly and Senate in support of the End of Life Option Act and met with legislators one-on-one urging them to vote for the End of Life Option Act since the introduction of the bill in January.
“I am glad to see that our legislators have listened to Brittany and the hundreds of terminally ill Californians who are in a similar crisis,” added Diaz. “Thank you, Governor Brown!”
“An overwhelming majority of people of California voiced their dissatisfaction with the lack of options for the terminally ill in this great state. Governor Brown listened with a compassionate heart and a discerning mind. His signature on the End of Life Option Act allows true principles of mercy to guide end-of-life care for the terminally ill in California,” said Maynard’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, who lives in Carlsbad. She testified before the Senate in support of the End of Life Option Act and met with lawmakers one-on-one urging them to vote for the bill since its introduction in January. “Bless you, Governor Brown.”
Upon hearing Gov. Brown signed the bill, Dr. Robert Olvera, a Harvard-trained physician from Santa Ana, caressed the photo of his 25-year-old daughter, Emily Rose, who suffered horribly as she died from Leukemia in 2014.
“My daughter did not die in vain,” he said tearfully. “This is the option she wanted to end her suffering. I thank Gov. Brown for giving dying Californians this option so they don’t have to suffer the way my daughter did.”
Besides California and Oregon, three other states authorize medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana and Vermont. A New Mexico appellate court recently overturned a 2014 district court ruling that aid in dying is a fundamental right under the state constitution, but the case will be heard by the New Mexico Supreme Court.