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Terminal Cancer Patient Considers Doctor-Assisted Suicide With New Law

BURBANK (CBS SF) -- A Southern California man suffering from cancer could be one of the first people in the state to use the state's new End of Life Option Act to die on his own terms.

Starting Thursday, California became the fifth state in the nation to create a legal process for patients to get help dying. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation in October of last year.

Burbank resident Matt Fairchild takes hundreds of pills a day to curb his pain from stage IV melanoma. The 46-year-old veteran of the Navy and Army has been suffering from the serious form of skin cancer since being diagnosed almost four years ago.

"My morphine, every three hours, for breakthrough pain," said Fairchild has he showed a reporter his medication.

Fairchild is planning to be one of California's first patients to get a prescription to end his life.

"They'll be a day that, 'Ok, this pain is not stopping. It's every day.' And that's the day I'll be glad it's on the shelf," explained Fairchild.

Of the five states that allow doctor-assisted suicide, California has the most stringent requirements of all.

The patient must have less than six months to live, be physically capable of taking the medication themselves. Patients also must get two doctors approval and there must be two witnesses.

But many doctors will opt out of giving approval over concerns it is in opposition with their oath to do no harm.

"Many patients have told me that they would lose trust if, in fact, I were willing to past that bright line and prescribe a medication that would hasten death," said Dr. Neil Wenger.

A statement from Providence Health reads, "We believe that intentionally ending a person's life is not consistent with the core principles of the professions of medicine and nursing."

The law passed following the case of Brittany Maynard, a San Francisco woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life two years ago.

"She took great comfort in the assurance that she was the sole decision maker about how much pain she was going to endure," said Brittany's mother Debbie Ziegler,

That is something Fairchild understands all too well.

"Your body has just been ravaged," said Fairchild.

His wife Ginger Fairchild agreed.

"It just means he'll have peace," she said.

Patients who qualify for life-ending drugs can fill the prescription whenever they want. That person would have leeway to take the drugs when the time is right for them.

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