California welcomes end of life act starting in 2016


Terminally ill patients in California will soon have another medical option to choose from since Governor Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act on Oct. 5. The right-to-die bill will legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state of California beginning in 2016.

Physician-assisted suicide is a controversial issue that the Supreme Court has left to state governments to mandate. California was the fifth and most populous state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Opponents were quick to file a repeal measure, which could put the issue on the voting ballot next year if it garners enough support.

The End of Life Option Act that was passed in California has very strict criteria for who can seek medical aid-in-dying, with specific protocols that must be followed. To qualify, terminally ill patients must be given a prognosis of six months or less to live by two doctors. It also requires that they be mentally capable of making such a decision. If patients meet these criteria, then they need to submit one written and two oral requests for aid-in-dying medications at least 15 days apart. Only after all these requirements have been met can a doctor prescribe the lethal medication.

University of San Diego senior, Karen Leparulo, does not agree with the new law.

“I feel as though when people are at a point of potentially wanting to end their lives, they’re at their most irrational states,” Leparulo said.

Leparulo explained that she thinks that doctors should not be given this responsibility.

“Although doctors may have tons of knowledge on their mental health or well-being, I think no one should ever assist someone on giving up on their life,” Leparulo said.

One of the surrounding discussions around death with dignity, comes in the idea of human rights. Leparulo says that the bill violates these rights.

“I do think it violates human rights because to the patient, a doctor may seem like they have the most knowledge therefore they put a lot of trust in their opinion when there are so many other solutions to whatever problems they may be having in their life,” Leparulo said.

Supporters of aid-in-dying argue that it is the individual’s right to end their life, especially when enduring so much pain. Others suggest that it is wrong to administer the lethal medication because occasionally doctors’ diagnoses may be incorrect. Sometimes people miraculously overcome terminal illnesses, and in that case taking an aid-in-dying option prematurely ends their life.

Michael Lovette-Colyer the director of University Ministry at USD explains that the Catholic Church does not support the new law.

“Based on our conviction that all life is a gift from God, the Catholic Church does not support doctor-assisted suicide,” Lovette-Colyer said. “Because life is a gift, it is to be reverenced and protected, always. This was one of Pope Francis’ main points when he visited the U.S. last month: there are no disposable people. The value of life is permanent. Even in the midst of dying, which is itself a natural part of life, human life is sacred. Thus, it is never appropriate to intentionally end life.”

Lovette-Colyer did, however, sympathize with the struggle that some people must undergo with a terminally ill loved one.

“The Church does, of course, recognize that families and friends of terminally ill individuals face enormous pain as they struggle with the suffering and death of a loved one,” Lovette-Colyer said. “This is the basis for the long-established teaching that extraordinary measures to extend life are not required. Palliative care, alleviating pain and other symptoms and meeting basic needs, is always acceptable. Recognizing the difficulty of the dying process, many members of the Church often accompany the dying and their families through it, offering prayer, emotional support, and material assistance as much as possible.”

Lovette-Colyer further elaborated on the perspective of the Church.

“The Church’s perspective is that it is important to hold fast to our greatest hope of spending our final days surrounded by loved ones,” Lovette-Colyer said. “While it is natural to want to avoid pain and suffering, or to fear the loss of control over bodily functions, the Church calls us to embrace this part of life and to find meaning and hope in it.”

A poll released by the Field Research Corporation the day after Governor Brown signed the bill into law concludes that 65 percent of voters approve of the new law while only 27 percent are opposed. If those numbers hold true it could be difficult for Seniors Against Suicide, the group that filed a repeal measure, to collect enough signatures to get the law put on the ballot next November.

The California law is a landmark for the death with dignity movement. Now more than 10 percent of Americans have the option for aid-in-dying if faced with terminal illness. While many aid-in-dying bills have failed and many states have not even proposed legislation, the conversation has continued on both sides of the issue.