[Alert to Readers: Make sure to read the “ALERT” at the bottom of this post for recent developments].
Q. I hear a new Right-to-Die law goes into effect very soon. Do you know anything about this?
A. Yes. Starting June 9, 2016, California becomes the fourth state in the union to allow a terminally ill patient to request lethal medication from his or her physician to voluntarily end the patient’s life. This legislation is the end result of years of contentious battle in California by ardent supporters on each side of the issue. California will now join Oregon, Washington and Vermont in offering this option to its terminally ill residents.
Many credit the new law to the much publicized story of 29 year old Brittany Maynard, the East Bay resident diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. To avoid an agonizing death, she was obliged to move with her husband to Oregon in order to secure physician assistance for aid in dying under that state’s Death with Dignity Act. Her video story went viral with 11.8 million views on YouTube, and a personal phone interview with Governor Jerry Brown as he struggled with his own decision whether to sign the bill into law, which he later did. The bill is AB 15, signed by Governor Brown on October 5, 2015.
Under the new California law, called the End-Of-Life Option Act, a California resident may seek medical aid in dying if the individual meets the following requirements: the patient must be an adult, terminally ill, given a prognosis of 6 months or less to live, and must be mentally capable of making their own health care decisions. The requesting individual must also be a resident of California, acting voluntarily, making an informed decision, and be capable of self-administering the lethal medication by ingesting it.
In addition, two California physicians must agree that the individual is eligible under the Act. One physician can only prescribe the medication and the other physician must give a consulting opinion regarding the individual’s terminal disease. The patient must make a total of three voluntary requests: two oral requests made at least 15 days apart, and one written request using a prescribed form signed by two witnesses, only one of whom may be related to the patient. NOTE: This 15 day requirement was recently reduced to 2 days by legislation effective January 1, 2021. The text of the law, known as SB 380, can be found here.
The request cannot be made by an agent under a Durable Power Of Attorney or Advance Health Care Directive, but must be made by the patient himself. The new law also provides that, when citing the patient’s cause of death, doctors cannot list suicide as the cause of death, and so the decision to use the law should not adversely affect a patient’s life, health or annuity insurance policies.
At this point, many hospitals and healthcare providers are rushing to get up to speed by training doctors and pharmacists in how best to assist patients who wish to access this new end-of-life option.
ALERT: On June 15, 2018, the California Court of Appeal, 4th District in Riverside, overruled the lower court which had suspended the law. As a result, “The End of Life Option Act” has now been reinstated while legal proceedings continue. Those desiring to use the law to end their suffering may now do so legally.
Background: On May 25, 2018, Riverside County Superior Court judge Daniel A. Ottolia yesterday officially overturned the California End of Life Option Act. The formal ruling in Ahn v. Hestrin confirmed his earlier verbal ruling.
05/29/2018: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has appealed the court ruling and has requested that the law remain in effect pending the outcome of that appeal. As of this post, the availability of this Act to permit a dying individual to end their own life is unclear. Watch for further legal developments here and/or visit the Death With Dignity website for ongoing further developments.
A concise summary of the law prior to the recent court case [noted above] putting it on hold, and entitled “California End of Life Option Act, Information for State Residents” can be found at www.CompassionAndChoices.org, or by calling 1-800-893-4548.