Over 100 terminally ill people took drugs to end their lives in the first six months after a 2016 "right to die" law made the option legal in California, sobering new statistics have revealed.
The California Department of Public Health reported on Tuesday that between June 9 and Dec. 31, 2016, a total of 191 people received life-ending drugs after being diagnosed with having less than six months to live. Out of those, 111 people took them and died.
Another 21 individuals died before taking the drugs, according to the report, which also found that of those who died, 87 percent were 60 years old or older, and most were white. In total, physician-assisted deaths made up 6 out of every 10,000 deaths in California between June and December.
According to the statistics, a total of 173 doctors reported prescribing life-ending drugs for their patients. While writing such prescriptions is completely voluntary for doctors and medical facilities, all Catholic and church-affiliated hospitals in the state have not allowed their physicians to prescribe such medicines, reports the LA Times.
The End of Life Option Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, made California the fifth state in the nation to allow patients with less than six months to live to request end-of-life drugs from their doctors. The law was passed after 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who was dying from brain cancer, had to move to Oregon in 2014 - the first state to adopt such a law - so she could end her life.
While supporters of the law argue that dying patients should have a legal right to end their own lives, critics say there's no way to determine whether a patient was coerced into taking a lethal drug.
Alexandra Snyder, an attorney with Life Legal Defense Foundation and critic of the law, told the Times: "It's really tragic that doctors are now thinking that the best they can do for a patient is to give them a handful of barbiturates and leave them to their own devices."
Last year, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren joined a number of faith leaders in condemning the law and said he opposed it not only as a theologian, but also as a father of a son who took his own life after battling mental illness.
"I oppose this law as a theologian and as the father of a son who took his life after struggling with mental illness for 27 years," Warren said, referring to his son, Matthew, who took committed suicide in 2013 after struggling with depression for many years.
Warren cited several Bible examples wherein Moses, Elijah, Jonah and Job begged God to take their lives and put them out of their misery. However, God denied each of their requests because He had better plans for their lives.
"The prospect of dying can be frightening," he added. "But we belong to God, and death and life are in God's hands. ... We need to make a radical commitment to be there for those who are dying in our lives."
In a 2016 interview with The Gospel Herald, Joni Eareckson Tada, prominent disabilities advocate and president of Joni and Friends, lamented the "culture of death" sweeping the country and said the church must be at the forefront of protecting life from conception to natural death.
"What concerns me is that there is a culture of death that is sweeping this country, and it is turning our society into a people that are fearful of suffering, fearful of pain, and fearful of disability," she said. "Those fears are now beginning to create social policy. This is not a healthy society. This is not a healthy culture. When we have a culture of death, it undermines the rights of the weak and infirmed and elderly, and that's what concerns me."
She added, "God never intended for us to suffer alone. That's why He created the spiritual community, the Church. The Church needs to extend that pro-life perspective and care not only what happens to that baby in the womb, but what happens once he's born, and once he grows older, and once he becomes an adult - embracing those people with disabilities and their families and the church is a true pro-life stance."
According to CBS News, California previously failed to pass right-to-die legislation in 2005 and 2006 thanks to objections from Catholic and medical groups.
Similar laws are being considered by several other states. In November, Colorado voters legalized the practice, bringing the percentage of Americans who live in states where the practice is legal to 18%.