California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), a lifelong Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian, signed a law Monday legalizing physician-assisted suicide in California.
Brown, who has had brushes with cancer, noted his personal struggle ahead of signing the law.
“I have carefully read the thoughtful opposition materials presented by a number of doctors, religious leaders and those who champion disability rights,” Brown wrote in a statement. “I have considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one’s life is sinful.”
Brown said he spoke with people who supported the bill, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the family of Brittany Maynard, who made headlines last year when she announced her plan to die by physician-assisted death in Oregon. Brown also wrote that he spoke with a Catholic bishop.
“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.”
California’s End of Life Option Act passed in mid-September ahead of Pope Francis’s trip to the U.S.
The Catholic Church has long fought laws that would allow physician-assisted death. Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez condemned the bill in a column, writing that “helping someone to die — even if that person asks for that help — is still killing,” according to a Los Angeles Times report. The California Catholic Conference also issued a statement calling on Brown to veto the bill.
A majority of white mainline Protestants (61 percent) and about half of white Catholics (55 percent) approve of physician-assisted suicide laws.
However, majorities of black Protestants (22 percent), white evangelicals (30 percent) and Hispanic Catholics (33 percent) disapprove of laws for physician-assisted suicide.
Opponents, including the popular Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada who is a quadriplegic, urged Californians to fight the legislation. “It’s very bad news for the elderly, the disabled, and the medically fragile,” she wrote.
Proponents have been fighting in states across the country.
“This is the biggest victory for the death-with-dignity movement since Oregon passed the nation’s first law two decades ago,” Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, who co-authored the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, said in a statement.
California joins just four other states — Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont — in allowing physician-assisted suicide.