California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Bill Legalizing Physician-Assisted Suicide

California Governor Jerry Brown looks on during a news conference at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California, on March 19. Max Whittaker/Reuters

Physician-assisted suicide will become legal in California under a bill signed into law on Monday by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

The law, based on a similar measure in Oregon, allows doctors to prescribe medication to end a patient's life if two doctors agree the person has only six months to live and is mentally competent.

In a rare statement accompanying the signing notice, Brown, a former Roman Catholic seminarian, said he closely considered arguments on both sides of the controversial measure, which makes California only the fifth U.S. state to legalize assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

"I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain," Brown said. "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."

The bill was strongly opposed by some religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, as well as advocates for people with disabilities, who said unscrupulous caregivers or relatives could pressure vulnerable patients to take their own lives.

But supporters said the measure, introduced after 29-year-old cancer patient Brittany Maynard made headlines by moving from California to Oregon to take her own life last year, would allow people who are terminally ill to die with dignity and greater comfort.

The law becomes effective on Jan. 1.