Monday, October 19, 2015

223.2 - California adopts Death with Dignity law

California adopts Death with Dignity law

Some other good news which in a way feels strange to call good news. Not because it's actually bad news but because of the circumstances under which the good news will operate.

And if you're confused, this will surely straighten it out:

California has enacted a Death With Dignity law, one that allows terminally-ill patients to obtain lethal doses of medications in order to end their own lives early.

Specifically, the law will permit physicians to provide lethal prescriptions to mentally competent adults who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and have a prognosis of less than six months to live.

The law will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns its special session on healthcare, which means it will not go into effect until sometime next year.

Governor Jerry Brown said he struggled with the decision about signing the bill and in fact didn't reveal his position on it until he signed it. He said he decided to sign it because, quoting, "The crux of the matter is whether the state of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life no matter how great his pain and suffering."

Brown, who has had three brushes with cancer himself, said he didn't know what he would do if he was dying in great pain, but it would be a "comfort" to be able to "consider the option" offered under the bill and he wouldn't want to deny that right to anyone else.

More important than that "comfort" is the sense of control that the "death-wth-dignity" option gives terminally-ill people, who all too often feel as if they had become mere observers of their own lives, that their lives were something happening to them rather than something in which they participate. Which is why in Oregon, which has had a Death with Dignity law in place for 17 years, more than a third of those who got a lethal prescription never filled it: The fact that they could make that decision if things became unbearable, the fact that they had that degree of control, was enough.

There were, of course, opponents, who had both ethical and practical arguments, neither of them persuasive. The ethical arguments seemed to be based mostly on the notion of "preserve life at any cost," which frankly from my perspective sounds reasonable until you add the necessary addendum "no matter the degree of suffering of the patient."

The practical arguments, on the other hand, were usually of the "scare quote" variety: people will get pushed into dying early because it's cheaper or greedy children will want to get rid of elderly parents quicker. Such arguments seem to fall apart in the face of the fact that in Oregon, which again has the most experience with this, there have been an average of just 69 lethal prescriptions a year - and remember a third of the total were never filled.

So California does - or next year, will - join Oregon, Montana, Vermont, and Washington in giving terminally-ill patients the option - which is what it is, the option - to end their days as they will, in full control of their lives and their faculties.

And yes, while the conditions are sad, that still is good news.

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