California has become the fifth US state to permit terminally ill patients to legally end their lives with the help of a doctor. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on Monday morning, against the objections of religious groups including the Catholic Church.
The bill passed through the California Assembly last month, but Mr Brown, a Catholic who at one point planned to become a priest, had taken weeks to sign it, during which time he discussed the issue with many people, including two of his own doctors and a Catholic bishop.
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” he said in a statement explaining his decision. “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.”
The law says terminally ill patients who have been given six months or less to live may end their own lives using drugs approved by two doctors. The patient must be physically capable of administering the drugs themselves, and two witnesses must be present when they do so.
The right-to-die movement pressed for the bill following the death of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old newlywed diagnosed with terminal cancer, who moved from California to Oregon to end her life last year. Oregon’s right-to-die law, known as Death With Dignity, went into effect in 1997.
Vermont, Montana and Washington state also have similar laws in place. Following Ms Maynard’s death, around half of all US states are now looking at enacting similar legislation.