Saturday, June 11, 2016

California's End-Of-Life Law Takes Effect

Last Fall the California legislature passed a bill called the End-Of-Life Option Act (see this blog, Sept. 17, 2015). Following the signature of governor Jerry Brown in October, the new law went into full effect on June 9th. The new law gives terminally ill patients the option of terminating their lives at a time and place of their own choosing. The law was inspired by the plight of Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill young Californian who chose to move to Oregon in 2014 to take advantage of a similar law already in effect there.

The new law is not "assisted suicide". Patients who might choose to take advantage of the law will die soon anyway. The new law simply allows them to choose a more gentle way of dying, at a time and place of their choosing. The preferred term is "death with dignity" or "aid in dying".

In order to request a prescription for life-ending medication in California, the patient must be a California resident at least 18 years of age who is mentally capable of making an informed decision and who has been diagnosed by at least two physicians with a disease that will result in their death within six months. In addition, there's a long list of requirements that must be met before a prescription for life-ending medications is approved, as well as certain restrictions on how the drugs can be used (the patient must self-administer the drugs, for example). The experience of the only other states with similar laws (Washington, Oregon, and Vermont) is that only about half of all patients who are issued prescriptions for life-ending medications actually use them.

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