Terminally ill California residents will be able to legally end their lives with medication prescribed by a doctor starting this summer, ending months of uncertainty for dying patients hoping to turn to the practice. State lawmakers adjourned a special session on health care Thursday, paving the way for the law allowing physician-assisted suicide to take effect June 9. The law approved last year made California the fifth state in the nation to adopt the practice, but patients were left in limbo until the special session wrapped up and the law could take effect 90 days later. It passed following the heavily publicized case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life in 2014.
Opponents say it could lead to premature suicides. Religious institutions, like Catholic hospitals, can opt out and ban their doctors from participating in any assisted deaths. Patients must have two separate meetings with a physician before a doctor can prescribe a life-ending drug. Elizabeth Wallner, a Sacramento resident with stage 4 colon cancer that has spread to her liver and lungs, said she is relieved a date has finally been set. "It gives me a great peace of mind to know that I will not be forced to die slowly and painfully," Wallner said in a statement provided by Compassion & Choices, a right-to-die advocacy group that worked closely with her and others to campaign for the law. (Read more right to die stories.)