On November 9th, California legislature passed the “End of Life Option Act”, giving terminally ill patients the right to legally end their own lives with medication prescribed by their doctors. In order to be prescribed any lethal medication, patients must be diagnosed with six months left to live and have support from two doctors.
For people like Brittany Maynard’s family, the passing of this act comes as a huge relief. The Brittany Maynard Fund was created by Compassion & Choices, a pro “Right to Die” organization, after Maynard was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2014 and had to move to Oregon in order to get an “authorized” death. The campaign advocates for the right to die with dignity. On their website, they do not use the term “assisted suicide” but argue that the act is allowing a more peaceful death where neither patient nor family has to suffer rather than a “sacrilegious” illegal suicide. The need for this to be legal in America is also felt, When insurance companies refuse to pay life insurance for terminally ill people who choose to end their lives on their own terms, it puts families at risk of intense financial hardship.
Yes, for many Californians with suffering loved ones, the ratification of this act is comforting. But as much support as the act has gotten, it has received an equivalent amount of criticism from not only religious groups, but also advocates on behalf of California’s increasing lower class. As many know, America’s middle class has been shrinking rapidly in the past decade due to growing income gaps as well as higher living costs. This means that many citizens have either Covered California, which barely covers any costs of health care, or no health insurance at all—making the surgery and medicine that can potentially cure life-threatening diseases extremely hard to afford for a grand majority of the California population, where 750,000 Californians are eligible for subsidies, and Covered California forecasts that between 295,000 and 450,000 consumers will newly enroll in coverage during open enrollment. Many in opposition suggest that a lower-income patient will feel more pressure to choose to end their life, rather than undergo expensive procedures and take medicine which they can not afford. In comparison, a wealthier patient will feel more freedom to choose one over the other, and in the future this act will benefit them and their families peace of mind, rather than their pocket books.
Regardless, the ultimate goal of the act is to ease the pain and suffering of both terminally ill patients and their families. In a press release given on October 5th California Governor and Jesuit, Jerry Brown said, “In the end [of deciding whether or not to ratify the act], I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. 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. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”