California legalized physician-assisted suicide on Monday. Overnight, with that new law, the number of Americans living in states where it is legal for a doctor to prescribe lethal medications to terminal patients tripled.
Before California, there were four states — Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Vermont — where doctors could prescribe these lethal drugs. A total of 13.7 million people live in those places. But California is the country's most populous state, with more than 38 million residents. Now that its new law has passed, there are 52.5 million people — about one in six Americans — who live in places where doctors can help terminally ill patients end their own lives.
An additional nine states are currently weighing legislation that would create the right elsewhere.
One fact that makes this especially interesting: There's no groundswell of public support for physician-assisted suicide laws right now. Depending on how pollsters word the question, there's actually some evidence that Americans are becoming less supportive of the right — although it is still something most of the country favors. Instead, much of the movement seems to stem from the work of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer who moved to Oregon last year to take advantage of the state's longstanding death-with-dignity law.