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In California, a dignified death

Four attempts since 1995, all in vain — until 20 years later.

All it took the fifth time around was for a dying California woman to move out of state to Oregon — where she was allowed to end her pain on her own terms — for terminally ill Californians to be accorded their right to die with dignity.

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 5, 2015, signed the End of Life Option Act into law, just a few weeks after the state Assembly and Senate approved the bill in a whirlwind special session.

This makes California the fourth state in the nation to give terminally ill people the right to die with dignity, joining the states of Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

Although met with strong opposition from different sectors, passage of this law was backed by a good majority of Californians.

According to a bipartisan poll by the Institute for Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, 76 percent of Californians support the law, which now provides an option for mentally competent, terminally ill person with less than six months to live to ask for and receive a prescription from their doctor for medication to end their dying process should their suffering become too great.

“This feels like a lightning fast victory, but it’s actually our fifth attempt in California since 1995. Let’s not make others wait so long! Public opinion and momentum are on our side — but our opponents won’t give up without a fight,” says an email from Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, an organization that advocated for the passage of the End of Life Option Act.

“What a tremendous, tumultuous — and sweetly victorious — ride this has been,” she adds.

Lee noted the “extraordinary courage and grace” demonstrated by Brittany Maynard who, in November 2014, took advantage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity laws. She was diagnosed with grade 2 astrocytoma—a form of brain cancer—in January 2014; she had a partial craniotomy but the cancer returned in April as grade 4 astrocytoma, with a prognosis of six months to live.

Proponents say the End of Life Option Act “will give peace of mind to terminally ill Californians with only months or weeks to live.” They add that the safeguards in this legislation are so strong that the California Medical Association, which has previously opposed similar bills, recently dropped its opposition to the End of Life Option Act.

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