California governor shares personal struggle at assisted-suicide bill signing

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide Monday, and shared his personal feelings and reflections on both the politics and religious import of the bill. 

Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File
Debbie Ziegler holds a photo of her late daughter, Brittany Maynard, as she receives congratulations from Ellen Pontac (l.) after a right-to die measure was approved by the state Assembly in Sacramento, Calif., Sept. 9. California will become the fifth state to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives using doctor-prescribed drugs after Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday he signed one of the most emotionally charged bills of the year.

A bill signed into law Monday has the California government thinking about death.

Gov. Jerry Brown of California said he privately consulted two doctors, friends, a Catholic bishop, and his own feelings before signing a controversial bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide.

"In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death," the Democratic governor wrote, according to the Associated Press. "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."

The bill made its fourth journey through the California state legislature after the intentional death of Brittany Maynard, a Californian who moved to Oregon so she could die by doctor-prescribed drugs rather than her terminal illness. As The Christian Science Monitor reported.

American society as a whole is grappling with the public momentum her case began, addressing the ethics of what advocates call “death with dignity” and opponents fear will stigmatize those who most need humane care.

The Vatican's top bioethics official condemned Ms. Maynard's choice at the time.

"We don't judge people, but the gesture in itself is to be condemned," Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula told an Italian news agency in 2014. "Assisted suicide is an absurdity."

Pope Francis said what advocates call a right to die is motivated by a "false sense of compassion" and modern "throw-away culture," the AP reported.

The governor of California is a Catholic, and his decision to consult a Catholic bishop before signing the bill reflects that. The law relates to an issue touched on by Pope Francis when he addressed the US Congress Sept. 22.

The pope urged America to "protect and defend human life at every stage of its development," a line that has been taken to mean a condemnation of abortion, the death penalty, and physician-assisted suicide, as The Christian Science Monitor's Francine Kiefer reported.

For many, assisted suicide presents a moral dilemma. Here's how Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez at Santa Clara University framed the issue

The case for assisted suicide is a powerful one--appealing to our capacity for compassion and an obligation to support individual choice and self determination. But, the case against assisted suicide is also powerful for it speaks to us of a fundamental reverence for life and the risk of hurling down a slippery slope toward a diminished respect for life.

Opponents of the law said they were disappointed that the governor drew so heavily on his personal feelings in signing the bill because it would cause suffering for many who are less fortunate than him. The law, which will not take effect until the legislative session ends in mid-2016, makes California the fifth state to legalize death by doctor-prescribed drugs.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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