Assisted suicide: New California law to take effect June 9

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California's legislature Thursday ended its special session on health care, meaning the state's assisted suicide law will take effect June 9.

Legislative rules require that laws passed during a special session go into effect 91 days after the end of the session.

Under the law, signed by Gov. Brown in October, a patient who has been diagnosed as having six months or less to live can request that his doctor prescribe life-ending medication.

The patient must make two oral requests at least 15 days apart, along with a written request witnessed by at least two people, one of whom may not be a relative.

The attending physician must determine that the patient is mentally competent to make an informed decision, and is physically able to take the fatal drug himself. The doctor must ask a second physician to confirm the diagnosis and prognosis, as well as the patient's mental competency.

Compassion & Choices, the main advocacy group that lobbied for the law, says it has launched a bilingual campaign to educate the terminally ill, their families and medical providers about the law. 

The group said in a statement that it has set up a hotline (1-800-893-4548) that patients, doctors and pharmacists can call for information on the law. It is also providing information on a website

"In addition, physicians can speak to doctors with years of experience in end-of-life care options, including medical aid in dying, by calling the Compassion & Choices’ free and confidential Doc2Doc consultation program at 1-800-247-7421," the group said.

Compassion & Choices' statement included comments from  three terminally ill people who support the law.

One of them, retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Matt Fairchild, who has "stage IV melanoma that has spread to his brain and bones," said he is "relieved that I will soon have the option to die peacefully rather than having to suffer a painful death," according to the statement.

Fairchild, from Burbank, thanked Gov. Brown "for giving me this peace of mind and sparing my family the trauma of watching me endure a needlessly protracted, miserable death."

While the legislature was debating the measure last year, the Catholic Church and other religious opponents argued that assisted suicide goes against the will of God. Disability rights groups argued that legalizing the practice would put patients - including those suffering from depression - at risk of coerced death.

Doctors in Oregon, Washington and Vermont already can prescribe life-ending drugs.

In Montana, while assisted suicide is not legal, the state's supreme court said in a 2009 ruling that there is nothing in Montana law indicating that physician-aided suicide is against public policy. The court added that under the state's living will law, a patient's consent to doctor-assisted suicide is an acceptable defense for a physician charged with homicide.  

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