Bioethics Blogs

Assisted-Dying Provisions: California Legislature Says Yes, the U.K. Says No

A new chapter in efforts to secure legal provisions for physician-assisted dying began last week when the California State Legislature voted to approve the End of Life Option Act. If Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill, California will become the fifth state to permit physician-assisted dying through statute (as in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont) or case law, as in Montana; a lower court decision permitting the practice in New Mexico was overturned last month. For advocates, it is a huge victory to have an assisted dying provision available in the nation’s most populous state.

Factors influencing the debate in California have included the recent Brittany Maynard case; in 2014, Maynard moved from California to Oregon to make use of that state’s longstanding assisted dying provision. Before her death last November, she recorded a series of videos urging California lawmakers to adopt a similar provision; the most recent video was released by her family four months after her death and was viewed by a committee of California’s State Senate during their deliberations on the bill. The rebranding of the Oregon-style provision reflected in California’s legislation as “end of life choice” rather than “death with dignity” may also turn out to be relevant to securing political and public support for the measure.

California’s population of 38.8 million is 10 times that of Oregon, and implementing this provision will be more complicated than in the much smaller states that have similar laws, protocols, and reporting requirements for voluntary self-administration of a lethal medication proscribed by a physician for that purpose.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.