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Right-To-Die Opponents Are Trying To Repeal California's New Law

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 7/10/2015 Mollie Reilly
ATHENA IMAGE © Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press ATHENA IMAGE

Opponents of California's new right-to-die law, which Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed earlier this week, are attempting to repeal the measure in next year's election.

Seniors Against Suicide, a group that describes itself as "a coalition of seniors dedicated to hope, comfort and care for the medically dependent and the emotionally vulnerable," filed paperwork with the state attorney general's office to get a repeal measure on the November 2016 ballot. The paperwork was filed by clinical psychologist and group spokesman Mark Hoffman, who said he is also working with other organizations who oppose "medically killing depressed and ill patients." 

"Illness is never a reason for ending a life," reads the organization's letterhead.

The group must collect signatures from 365,880 registered voters before Jan. 3 to get the referendum on next year's ballot. 

If polling is any indication, that will be no easy feat. A Field Poll released Tuesday found 65 percent of California voters are in favor of the new law, while just 27 percent oppose it.

“In the very same week the governor signed the End of Life Option Act into law, the Field Poll found that 65 percent of Californians approve of the law, and that support cuts across partisan lines, ethnic groups and religious denominations," said a statement from the law's co-authors -- state Sens. Lois Wolk (D) and Bill Monning (D) and Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D). "If this referendum were to qualify, it would surely fail. The only result would be to delay the effective date of the bill until November 2016, and deny many terminally ill Californians the possibility of a more peaceful and gentle death.”

Under the End of Life Option Act, which is set to go into effect next year, terminally ill patients who have been given less than six months to live by two doctors may choose to end their own lives with the assistance of a physician, so long as they are mentally capable of making decisions about their own health. The patients must also submit one written and two oral requests at least 15 days apart. 

The law was inspired by Californian Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2014 at the age of 29. Because she couldn't pursue end-of-life options in her home state, Maynard moved to Oregon, where a right-to-die law has been on the books since 1997. 

Prior to her death in November 2014, Maynard lobbied Brown and California legislators to adopt a "death with dignity" law. 

"No one should have to leave their home and community for peace of mind, to escape suffering and to plan for a gentle death," she said in a video message recorded shortly before her death.

Maynard's mother, Debbie Ziegler, and husband, Dan Diaz, continued her activism after her death, meeting with lawmakers in Sacramento and testifying on behalf of the bill. During an interview with HuffPost Live Tuesday, Diaz said he feels a "great sense of pride" in his late wife's legacy.

"When we had to leave our home in California, pack up half our house, drive 600 miles north... That to Brittany was such a huge injustice," Diaz said. "Nobody at the end of their life, when they've been told they have six months, nobody should have to go through that."

In addition to Seniors Against Suicide, the bill faced opposition from disability rights advocates as well as Catholic groups. Brown, who once studied in a Jesuit seminary, acknowledged this opposition in the unusually personal signing statement he issued Monday, noting he had consulted a Catholic bishop, two doctors and several friends and former classmates before making his decision.

"In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death," he wrote. "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."

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