LISTEN LIVE KPR - On Air: Listen Live to classical, jazz and NPR news Schedule LATEST
KPR 2 - On Air: Listen live to KPR's all talk-radio service, KPR2 Recordings

Share this page              

California To Permit Medically Assisted Suicide As Of June 9

Debbie Ziegler holds a photo of her late daughter, Brittany Maynard, while speaking to the media in September after the passage of California's End Of Life Option Act. Maynard was an advocate for the law.

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed landmark legislation last October that would allow terminally ill people to request life-ending medication from their physicians.

But no one knew when the law would take effect, because of the unusual way in which the law was passed — in a legislative "extraordinary session" called by Brown. The bill could not go into effect until 90 days after that session adjourned.

The session closed Thursday, which means the End of Life Option Act will go into effect June 9.

"We're glad to finally have arrived at this day where we have a date certain," says Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel.

"It's a historic achievement for California, and for a limited universe of people dealing with a terminal illness," Monning says. "It could indeed be a transformative way of giving them the option of a compassionate end-of-life process."

Disability-rights advocates fought hard last year against passage of the legislative act, and they continue to voice concern.

Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, says it would be impossible to know, for example, if a depressed patient went to many doctors — who all denied the request for lethal medication — before finding one who agreed to write the prescription.

"We are looking ahead at measures to protect people from abuse," Golden says, "and to explore and inform doctors, nurses and pharmacists that they don't have to participate."

As written, the law requires two doctors to agree, before prescribing the drugs, that a patient has six months or less to live. Patients must be able to swallow the medication themselves and must affirm in writing, 48 hours before taking the medication, that they will do so.

California is the fifth state to permit this option at the end of life. It joins Vermont, Oregon, Washington and Montana.

Across the state, some patients with advanced cancer welcomed the news.

"It gives me a great peace of mind to know that I will not be forced to die slowly and painfully," says Elizabeth Wallner, in a release from Compassion & Choices, an aid-in-dying advocacy group. Wallner, 52, of Sacramento, is a single mother with stage 4 colon cancer that has spread to her liver and lungs.

"It gives great comfort to know that the agonizingly traumatic image of me suffering will not be my family's last memory of me," she says.

Monning says he's grateful to people who worked for passage of the law, some in their final days:

  • Brittany Maynard, an Orange County, Calif., woman with brain cancer, moved to Oregon to take advantage of laws there that allowed her to get lethal medication. Before she died in 2014, she recorded a video that was shown during hearings on the End of Life Option Act in Sacramento.
  • Jennifer Glass, of San Mateo, Calif., helped to launch the campaign in 2014, then died of lung cancer last year.
  • Christy O'Donnell, 47, of Los Angeles, died of lung cancer last month.

"I really believe," Monning says, "we use today to mark and dedicate the memory of some true champions."

This story was produced by member station KQED's blog State of Health.

Copyright 2016 KQED Public Media. To see more, visit KQED Public Media.

Tower Frequencies

91.5 FM KANU Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City
89.7 FM KANH Emporia
99.5 FM K258BT Manhattan
97.9 FM K250AY Manhattan (KPR2)
91.3 FM  KANV Junction City, Olsburg
89.9 FM K210CR Atchison
90.3 FM KANQ Chanute
96.1 FM K241AR Lawrence (KPR2)

See the Coverage Map for more details

Contact Us

Kansas Public Radio
1120 West 11th Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Download Map
785-864-4530 (Main Line)
888-577-5268 (Toll Free)