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California’s New End of Life Option Act Goes Into Effect in 2016

shutterstock_265887227In October, California became one of five states to permit medical aid in dying with the passage of the End of Life Option Act. The bill is modeled after one passed in Oregon in 1997.

Governor Brown signed the bill, with a signing statement that said, in part, “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

The bill allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients who are expected to live six months or less. A patient must make two oral requests, at least 15 days apart, and one written request, signed in front of two witnesses. The signer must have the capacity to understand what they are requesting, the request must be voluntary, and a physician has to discuss feasible alternatives that would also be available to the patient.

In addition, a patient must self-administer the drug (in other words, no one else can administer the drug) and no one can request such drugs on another’s behalf (in other words, no one can act for a patient to make such a request through a power of attorney, an advance health care directive, or as a conservator, health care agent, surrogate, or any other legally recognized health care decisionmaker.) A patient can rescind such a request at any time.

The bill provides a form for the request for lethal drugs that reads in part:

REQUEST FOR AN AID-IN-DYING DRUG TO END MY LIFE IN A HUMANE AND DIGNIFIED MANNER I, ………………………………………………, am an adult of sound mind and a resident of the State of California.
I am suffering from ……………., which my attending physician has determined is in its terminal phase and which has been medically confirmed.
I have been fully informed of my diagnosis and prognosis, the nature of the aid-in-dying drug to be prescribed and potential associated risks, the expected result, and the feasible alternatives or additional treatment options, including comfort care, hospice care, palliative care, and pain control.
I request that my attending physician prescribe an aid-in-dying drug that will end my life in a humane and dignified manner if I choose to take it, and I authorize my attending physician to contact any pharmacist about my request.

The Bill takes effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns its special session on health care, which will be sometime in 2016. To read more about the End of Life Option Act, here’s a good summary from the LA Times.