It was October 2015 when California voters elected to become the fifth state to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with prescriptions from their doctors. This was not an easy decision; many remember months of contentious debate; religious groups and disability rights activists heatedly opposed the law and tried unsuccessfully to get a referendum on the ballot to overturn it. Yet earlier this month the bill's authors announced that the End of Life Option Act will take effect June 9, 2016.
Time to raise awareness, ensuring that all terminally ill patients have access
As the implementation date nears, medical groups, supporters, legislators and others are working to raise awareness of the new right-to-die law and ensure that all terminally ill patients have access to it. There are webinars, panels and town hall meetings. Groups are distributing information, setting up telephone lines and encouraging terminally ill patients to discuss with their doctors whether a lethal prescription might at some point be right for them.
The conditions for obtaining physician-prescribed medications under the End of Life Option Act.
- Be mentally competent and 18 or older.
- Have six months or fewer to live, as determined by a doctor.
- Submit two oral requests -- 15 days apart -- to the attending physician, and one written request.
Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), one of the authors of the law, said he was pleased that the law now has an effective date and patients will have the option to avoid "insurmountable pain and suffering." The forms are already in place and Monning said he expects patients to begin coming forward. "There are families who have been calling us wanting to know if it will be available for a loved one," Monning said. He also acknowledged that for some, June may be too late.
Compassion & Choices: aid-in-dying outreach throughout California
Compassion & Choices is a medical aid-in-dying advocacy group that advocated for this law. It recently launched a bilingual campaign, a speaker's bureau and a free hotline for people who want more information. The group also has a confidential consultation program for doctors. The organization is sending out volunteers to saturate the state and get the word out, but there is a lot of work to do. This is something we don’t necessarily think through—it’s one thing to pass a law but another challenge to make sure people have access to the benefits of that law.
Expect inconsistency in law’s implementation
California follows Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana in approving lethal prescriptions. Based on the experience of other states, authorities expect some health institutions to be supportive, others not so supportive, leading to inconsistency around the state. The California Academy of Family Physicians is producing podcasts, emphasizing that this is now part of good end-of-life care. The law has triggered a lot of focus on an area of healthcare that for many was taboo. Many more physicians now need to step up to make this part of their conversation with terminally ill patients. If they’re not comfortable with this themselves, they need to know where to refer their patients because the End of Life Option Act provides a new option for terminally ill patients.
End-of-life documents are an important part of our services
Our comprehensive Living Trust package includes a Power-of-Attorney and an Advance Healthcare Directive.We also provide a section for listing the contact information for healthcare providers, insurance agents and other people who provide critical services. If you have questions, please contact us at one of our three Bay Area locations.