Our View: End of life decisions should be up to us, not government
May 18, 2018
Few Americans are comfortable talking about death.
It's a delicate subject, one meant for somber mortuaries or attorney's offices. Going gentle into that good night isn't dinner table appropriate.
But it's that conversation California residents need to have in the wake of a judge's decision that found The End of Life Option Act unconstitutional. A Riverside County judge struck down the law after ruling the Legislature passed it during a special session called for health care issues.
The law wasn't within the realm of the special session, the judge ruled, and he gave five days for state officials to file an appeal. The state attorney general vowed he'd take action.
The act allowed doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill adults who met certain criteria.
Political posturing aside, there's a deeper issue worth raging about. Our government wields a power over one of the most important and personal moments of our lives. Literal decisions over life and death should rest with individuals facing terminal illnesses. The government should ensure those decisions are regulated and not abused, but it should not forbid this basic right to adults choosing between significant pain or a painless death.
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This isn't a conversation most of us want to have. We don't want to be in a position where we must consider ending human life, especially our own. Gov. Jerry Brown, once a Jesuit seminary student, seemed to struggle over passing the act.
"I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain," the LA Times reported Brown said at the time. "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."
Neither should a judge who determined this act failed to meet an arbitrary standard.
The uncertainty of this law's future shines a bright light on the subject of death and how our society handles it. We should take this opportunity to ensure our end-of-life wishes are upheld.
We must take the time to visit with an attorney and have our wills in place. Our families must know our plans before we're lying in a hospital bed. And our doctors need to guide our medical decisions while respecting the desires of those of sound mind.
There's nothing wrong with holding onto life, burning and raving at the close of day. There's also nothing wrong about adults with a terminal disease deciding they want to peacefully end their lives.
And our government has little business interfering with that.
The people of California deserve a safe, legal, humane method of ending their lives when warranted.
If people suffering from terminal illnesses don't want to end their lives — a decision completely up to them — they should have access to medication that eases their suffering in their last days.
And we deserve access to both these options regardless of wealth.
Maybe that would overburden our medical system, which creates an argument for including insurance in end-of-life medical situations.
We're treading new waters with The End of Life Option Act. We need to accept change not only in how insurance is handled, but also in how we handle death as a society.
Because not everybody wants to rage against the dying of the light.
Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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