California becomes 5th U.S. state to legalize physician-assisted suicide

California has become the fifth U.S. state to legalize physician-assisted suicide under a bill signed into law Monday by Governor Jerry Brown.

In signing the bill, Brown said he had carefully read opposition materials which had been presented to him by a number of doctors, religious leaders and those who advocate disability rights. "I have considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one's life is sinful," he said, adding that he also read letters of support and heartfelt pleas.

"In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death," the governor, who is a Democrat, said in his statement. "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."

The bill, ABX2-15, will allow adults who are deemed competent to request a prescription for medication to painlessly and peacefully end their life. Two doctors will have to review each request and medically confirm the presence of an incurable and irreversible disease. Both doctors also have to agree that, within reasonable medical judgment, the disease is likely to result in death within six months.

Under the law in California, an individual seeking a prescription for an aid-in-dying drug will have to submit two oral requests at a minimum interval of 15 days as well as a written request. No other person may physically assist a qualified patient in ingesting the drug. Death as a result of physician-assisted suicide will not be considered suicide under the California law, and insurance companies may not provide information about the availability of physician-assisted suicide unless a request has been made.

Physician-assisted suicide is different from euthanasia as the latter allows a doctor to actively end a patient's life. Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Canada (effective 2016), and the U.S. states of Oregon, Montana, Washington, and Vermont. Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Colombia.

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