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California doctors can prescribe life-ending prescriptions beginning in June

California became the fifth state to adopt the practice when the governor signed it into law last year. Yet patients were left in limbo until a special legislative session ended on Thursday.

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    Christy O'Donnell, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, breaks out into tears after California lawmakers advanced right-to-die legislation last September. She died Feb. 6.
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The 90-day countdown until physician-assisted suicide becomes available in California started Thursday, when lawmakers ended months of political wrangling over a law that allows the practice.

Beginning June 9, terminally ill California residents will be able to legally end their lives with medication prescribed by a doctor. California became the fifth state to adopt the practice when Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed it into law last year. Yet patients were left in limbo until a special legislative session ended on Thursday.

Opponents of the law say it could lead to premature suicides. Supporters say they don’t know how many terminally ill patients have been waiting for the law to go into effect.

The bill gained a critical mass of support last year after the heavily publicized case of Brittany Maynard, a young California woman who moved to Oregon to legally end her life.

Democratic state Sen. Bill Monning, who helped write the bill, said patients have been contacting his office daily since Governor Brown signed the legislation last October.

"It's obviously a great sense of achievement and historic achievement for California, but it is tempered by the loss of great people who fought to get the billed passed," he told the Associated Press.

Similar laws have passed in four other states but the California measure is likely to face additional scrutiny, as Harry Bruinius reported for The Monitor in October:

Evidence suggests that, so far in states that have adopted assisted suicide, those who have ended their lives are have tended “to be white, well-insured, well-educated, and well cared for,” says James Hoefler, a political scientist at Dickinson College in St. Carlisle, Pa., who studies right-to-die laws....

The demographics, economics, and health care structure in California are different than they are in Oregon, Washington State, and Vermont, where assisted suicide is already legal.

That will put the system under new pressures – particularly the persistent concern that economic calculations could tempt families or insurers to push patients diagnosed with a terminal illness to end their lives.

Senator Monning said California’s law includes strong protections for both patients and physicians. Religious institutions can opt out and patients must have two separate meetings with a doctor before they can be prescribed a life-ending drug.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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