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California Passes Death-With-Dignity Law

In a historic moment for terminally ill adults and their loved ones in the Golden State—and a hard-fought victory for Compassion & Choices activists and supporters— California Governor Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act into law on October 5.

The California Senate and Assembly approved this landmark statute, which authorizes adults with six months or less to live to request a doctor’s prescription for life-ending medication, on bipartisan votes. It was authored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman and coauthored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning and Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk. Without the unfailing persistence, heart and dedication of these legislators, we would not be celebrating this tremendous win.

“We applaud Governor Brown for listening to his constituents—75 percent of whom support this law—and giving terminally ill Californians the right to die peacefully and painlessly,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee. “Today’s indisputable triumph truly honors Brittany Maynard, Jennifer Glass, and every storyteller and supporter who made this issue so urgent and personal to people across America.”

This stunning achievement—the biggest since Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act was approved by voters in 1994 —emanated from C&C’s public 2013 pledge to make aid in dying an open, accessible and legitimate medical practice in California within five years. Thanks to a savvy, multi-pronged effort fueled by generous C&C supporters, we achieved that goal in just 24 months.

C&C’s experienced strategists were prepared to wage this campaign on several fronts, including on the 2016 ballot. But the world’s unequivocal embrace of California native Brittany Maynard in the fall of 2014 motivated legislators to move more quickly.

“The minute Brittany’s story broke, legislators began calling us,” said Compassion & Choices California Political Director Charmaine Manansala. “This complex issue now had a face. People understood that no one should have to uproot herself from her home, especially when dying.” The impact of Brittany’s ensuing partnership with C&C – and the selfless advocacy of her family including husband, Dan Diaz, and mother, Debbie Ziegler – cannot be overstated.

C&C has long tried to pass aid-in-dying legislation in California. So besides what has been called “the Brittany effect,” why did we succeed this time, during a high-stakes special session, no less?

Organization and communication, said Manansala. “This time, C&C had the resources to really push this campaign, from the grasstops to the grassroots. We had an on-the-ground California communications team talking to voters, physicians, legislators and media. We trained 1,060 volunteers, made 1,329 legislative visits and held 465 events. I’ve worked on many campaigns, and I’d never seen anything like this.”

Another boost came when the powerful California Medical Association (CMA), which had for decades opposed death-with-dignity bills, adopted a neutral position. And at the heart of this effort were the Californians in addition to Maynard who bravely spoke out about the personal urgency of this option for them. The stories they told made death with dignity about people, not process. They met with legislators and reporters, and rallied support for the End of Life Option Act, selflessly giving energy, passion and time—of which many had precious little left—to amplify the campaign’s cry: California can’t wait.

While we are thrilled by this incredible victory, our fight is far from over. C&C will be prepared to defend the law in court or at the ballot. We’ll also work with physicians to fully integrate aid in dying into California’s medical system to ensure that aid in dying becomes what the law intends: open and accessible.