Since the story of Brittany Maynard drew attention to the lack of death-with-dignity initiatives in California late last year, a lot of controversy has ensued with arguments both for and against the state’s proposed End of Life Option Act (SB 128).
After being diagnosed with brain cancer, Maynard made the decision to relocate to Oregon with her family and practice her right to self-determination by self-administering a lethal medication to end her life before her terminal disease could. Similar to Oregon’s Death-With-Dignity Act, California’s proposed End of Life Option Act would give adults who have been diagnosed with six months or less to live, the choice to be medically assisted in facilitating their deaths, as long as they possess the mental capacity to make that decision.
Assisted suicide, death with dignity, and now end of life options have sparked an international debate where its biggest opponents include religious and political influencers. Just last year, Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic church, explicitly opposed the notion of death with dignity, declaring that it was a “false sense of compassion” that goes against “God and his creation”.
Politicians and groups who oppose this bill have also framed their disdain by arguing that having an aid-in-dying policy will lead to the coercion and maltreatment of the elderly and disabled. However, having the right to decide on your end of life is more than a religious or political issue; it’s an issue of human rights. California Senator, Lois Wolk, who introduced the bill to Senate has stated, “End-of-life is about the most personal freedom there is and guaranteeing terminally ill Californians will have a right to exercise this option if they believe it is right for them.”
The fact of the matter is that a terminal, debilitating disease can be diagnosed at any moment in one’s life. Brittany Maynard was just 29 years old when she received her life changing diagnosis. She was college educated, happily married, and had a bright future ahead of her in her career as a school teacher. Her story emphasizes the notion that no individual should have to compromise their comfort and beliefs to leave this life on their own terms, with respect and dignity.
According to Compassion & Choices, the leading national organization committed to advocating for end of life options, 74 percent of Americans believe that terminally ill individuals who are in great pain should have the right to end their lives. When someone is diagnosed with a terminal disease, every single moment of their lives is preoccupied with the thought of death, pain, and uncertainty.
This bill would not make it a requirement for all individuals with six months or less to live, it is simply an option that may be the most rational for some. Though death is not a pleasant topic to discuss, it is important to break the taboo surrounding subject. Regardless of the stance that individuals take on California’s End of Life Option Act, it is important to begin the conversation of what end of life entails and the right of individuals to make that decision for themselves.
Many believe SB 128 is providing a choice for Californians as well as a peace of mind for those who want to have control of their lives even in their last moments. According to the California Medical Association, state law allows for individuals to create a “living will”. This means that individuals have the choice to appoint a trusted family member, spouse, friend, etc. to make medical decisions should the event arise that they cannot make it for themselves.
This law basically encourages families to discuss their options for end of life before a serious illness or injury occurs. The premise of California’s End of Life Option Act is the exact same. This bill would essentially give individuals the power and control of their lives. If California’s current law allows you to appoint someone else to make your end of life decisions, why should you not have the power to make the decision yourself?
Maria Riestra is a Master of Social Work student at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in Community Organization, Planning & Administration. As an aspiring social worker, she is deeply interested in fighting for social justice and basic human rights through public policy and advocacy.