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How the 'right to die' bill made it to a vote was wrong, but Brown should sign it anyway

How the 'right to die' bill made it to a vote was wrong, but Brown should sign it anyway
Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Sen. Bill Monning, D-Monterey, celebrate after the passage of legislation which would allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives at the state Capitol on Sept. 11. (Hector Amezcua / Associated Press)

State lawmakers shouldn't have subverted their own rules to allow a "right to die" bill to pass Friday during a special session on healthcare for the poor. Nevertheless, Gov. Jerry Brown should sign it, no matter what he thinks about how it reached his desk.

The process stunk, as the worst kind of sausage making does. The right-to-die proposal, which would allow terminally ill patients to hasten death along if they can't endure the pain or discomfort, stalled in committee during the regular session, only to be repackaged into a new bill for the special session on healthcare. It was an obvious charade. We didn't approve of this tactic and said it would be preferable to return to the issue next year.

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The California Legislature didn't listen, however, and barreled ahead, holding new hearings and pushing the bill through at almost the last minute. Perhaps that was the only way legislative leaders could see the measure passing, given the emotional nature of death and dying.

In any case, it's done. Brown's job now is not to pass judgment on the shenanigans of the Legislature, it's to evaluate the merits of this particular bill and act accordingly. On that basis alone, there ought to be no question about what he should do.

At the foundation of the End of Life Option Act is compassion. Modeled on Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, it would make it legal for doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medicine after certain narrow conditions were met, including a prognosis of death within six months. Patients would then be able to decide if and when to take the life-ending medication. Statistics from Oregon's law show that not everyone who requests a lethal dose of medication will take it.

It's an open question what the often-inscrutable governor will do with the bill. Although he criticized the legislative process, Brown has been silent on whether he supports the right-to-die concept. Complicating things further, the Catholic Church opposes the bill, and Brown — a former Jesuit seminarian — is particularly thoughtful on issues that impact religious doctrine.

But the governor is also smart enough to know that the personal and religious ideologies of lawmakers should not trump the right of people who are dying to control the few things they can about their own ending. Will giving his blessing encourage legislators to bend their rules in the future? It may, but that's on their own consciences.

What should weigh on the governor's conscience is the harm a veto might do to those who may find comfort and compassion in this historic legislation.

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