For a decade, Oregon has been the only state in the U.S. where physician-assisted suicide is legal. However, California could soon become the second, and given its bellwether status, potentially spark a tidal wave of laws in other states or even federal legislation, observers say. California's legislature is now considering a measure which, like Oregon's, would let patients with six months or less to live to take a fatal dose of pills prescribed by their doctor. As in Oregon, doctors would have to get an OK from a psychiatrist that the patient was mentally competent before they could legally prescribe a lethal dose of pills. Opponents of the measure, meanwhile, argue that many patients committing suicide under this law are actually clinically depressed rather than attempting to end intolerable suffering, and say that psychiatric oversight has been lax in Oregon.
Over the past 10 years, 292 patients have committed suicide under the Oregon law, including many cancer patients. Researchers project that in a state the size of California, roughly 500 people a year could commit legal suicide if the law passes. The bill has more votes than it has in prior attempts, and the public seems to support its passage. It has powerful opponents, though, including the California Medical Association and the Roman Catholic Church.
To get more background on the measure:
- read this USA Today article