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Terminally Ill Californians in Agony Need Aid-in-Dying Option

My brother Victor could not hold a fork, much less talk or walk, by the time the pain from renal cancer had metastasized to his brain.

For almost two years he endured tubes, catheters, needles and agony that even his 32-year career as a doctor never prepared him for.

I rushed to be by his side. It broke my heart to see my brother, once a handsome and brilliant physician, now emaciated, suffering from unbearable pain that even the hospice team that he once directed in South Texas could not alleviate.

We prayed for a miracle. Doctors said it was only a matter of days before Victor would die.

Victor didn’t want to die. He had everything to live for: his beautiful wife, two loving daughters and the honor of being recognized as one of the best doctors in our home state of Texas.

But Victor was dying – and in a very painful way.

“There is nothing medicine can do for me now,” he whispered to me. “Please understand what I am going through. We need to let the body go.”


End of Life Option Act

This haunting memory returns whenever I speak to mentally competent, terminally ill Californians who want the option to request medication that they can consume in the final stages of their disease so they can die peacefully in their sleep, at home, surrounded by their loved ones.

For the first time in California history, the state Senate last week approved a bill, the End of Life Option Act (SB 128) that would give dying Californians this end of life option. The vote came two weeks after the California Medical Association dropped its 28-year opposition to such aid-in-dying legislation. The bill now moves to the Assembly, where the deadline to pass the bill is September 11.

California voters support the medical option of aid in dying  by more than a 2-1 margin (64 percent vs. 24 percent). Yet, two decades after Oregon voters rejected a ballot initiative to block implementation of our nation’s first death-with-dignity law in 1997, California still has not authorized this practice. The End of Life Option Act is closely modeled after, the death-with-dignity law in Oregon, which has worked well for 17 years without a single documented case of abuse or coercion. Currently, four other states authorize medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.


Terminally Ill Californians  Want to Live, But They Are Dying 

The terminally ill Californians I talk to every day would love to live, but they can’t. They are dying – and soon.

Their voices quiver as they speak about unrelenting headaches, nausea and skeletal pain they have to endure in the last stages of cancer, including of the brain, kidney, liver and other vital organs.

They assure that they want to end their suffering, not out of despair or depression, but to maintain some comfort in their final days, so that they could pass peacefully.

As a sister who watched my oldest brother endure a horrifically painful dying process, I urge Assembly members to pass the End of Life Option Act before the September 11 deadline.

This option may not be for everyone. However, as a Catholic, I believe it is not for me or anyone else to judge others. I would not want to withhold this option from those who want to stop their suffering in their final days. Without this medical option, many terminally ill Californians will continue to face unbearable agony at the end of their lives.


Patricia A. González-Portillo is the California campaign communications director for Compassion & Choices. She is a former journalist for La Opinión , The [Riverside, CA] Press-Enterprise and The Brownsville [Texas] Herald.