Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

California Governor Signs Physician-Assisted-Suicide Bill Into Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday that makes it legal for doctors to help terminally ill patients who choose to die.
Damian Dovarganes
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday that makes it legal for doctors to help terminally ill patients who choose to die.

With the stroke of a pen, California Gov. Jerry Brown made it legal for physicians in the state to prescribe lethal doses of medications if their terminally ill patients wish to end their lives.

Brown signed the "End of Life Act" into law on Monday, and in doing so California joins four other states — Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana — where patients' right to choose doctor-assisted death is protected either by law or court order.

In a statement Brown referred to the measure as "not an ordinary bill because it deals with life and death." He also said he considered a wide range of perspectives on the matter, including two of his doctors, champions of disability rights and even Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

"In the end, 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."

As the Los Angeles Times reports, approving the bill "appeared to be a gut-wrenching decision" for Brown, a former Jesuit seminary student who at one time studied to enter the priesthood. The LA Times also reports California's law is similar to Oregon's.

"It permits physicians to provide lethal prescriptions to mentally competent adults who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and face the expectation that they will die within six months.

"The law will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns its special session on healthcare, which may not be until next year. The earliest likely adjournment would be in January."

As the Two-Way has reported, similar bills failed to make it out of the California Legislature. But proponents of right-to-die rallied around a new champion in Brittany Maynard, who moved from California to Oregon to end her life last year through legal suicide. Maynard, who suffered from incurable brain cancer, was 29 when she died.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on the rules for terminally ill patients who are eligible for a physician's help to end their life.

"Before the drugs can be prescribed, two California doctors must agree that such a person has no more than six months to live.

"It is then the patient's choice whether to take the drugs. Those who want to must affirm their intention 48 hours in advance and must take the drugs on their own, without help.

"California has seen five previous efforts to pass an aid-in-dying law since 1992, when state voters rejected a ballot initiative by a 54 to 46 margin. Similar laws failed to make it out of the state Legislature four times between 1995 and 2008."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.