California Gov. Jerry Brown Signs End of Life Option Act

There was a lot of speculation in California that Governor Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian who had recently flown to Rome to participate in Jesuit Pope Francis’ climate conference, would veto legislation legalizing physician-assisted suicide in California. Catholic bishops are among the nation’s loudest and steadiest opponents of the right to die. Instead, the governor did the right thing and signed the bill.

Brown issued a signing statement explaining what finally persuaded him to sign the law:

In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death.

I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. 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. 

Brown’s statement also acknowledged that the governor “considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one’s own life is sinful,” and “discussed this matter with a Catholic Bishop,” among others, before making his final decision.

Brown’s conclusion was right, but his reasoning was flawed. It suggests that the governor spent considerable time deciding what his personal morality and religion would permit, and then allowed the same leeway to the people of California.

That process was backwards. State laws should not be based on theological and religious perspectives. Period. By suggesting that his political decision was religion-based, the governor opened the door to religion-based laws banning aid-in-dying, abortion, contraception, and other constitutional rights. Californians who endured Proposition 8 should be familiar with the evils of religion-based marriage laws and not give the idea that religion-based government ever works.

A Jesuit-educated Catholic seminarian should know better and recognize that a politician is not a priest.



Picture Credit: By California Air Resources Board from Sacramento, United States (Governor Jerry Brown) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Leslie C. Griffin

Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law. Professor Griffin, who teaches constitutional law, is known for her interdisciplinary work in law and religion. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.