California’s right to die law goes into effect

By Dawn Geske | Jun 24, 2016

SACRAMENTO – California’s right to die law has recently gone into effect, giving terminally ill Californians the rights to die through life-ending medications.

The California End of Life Option Act, which was passed last year, went into effect on June 9, allowing doctors that want to participate to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients under certain conditions, which have been outlined by the law.

California joins five other states that have legalized right to die laws; including Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and New Mexico. Under the End of Life Option Bill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live can be prescribed life-ending medications to take their life.

“It should have passed a long time ago in my opinion,” Faye Girsh, executive director and president of the Hemlock Society of San Diego, a right to life advocacy group, told the Northern California Record. “We put it on the ballot in 1992 and California had been the leader in this kind of legislation so we expected it to pass then. We got 46 percent of the vote then. We didn’t have enough money to make it pass. It should have been on the books since then. The only thing surprising was how difficult it was to get it passed. The obvious numbers should have helped as 80 percent of the population wanted it so it certainly should have passed.

“It gives us more choices at the end of life and it allows us to converse with our families and our doctors to say that if things get really bad, that we want help in dying. That’s pretty revolutionary,” Girsh added.

The California law was modeled after Oregon’s right to die law that went into effect in 1997. Much of California passing the right to die law was championed by terminally ill Californian Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon to end her life rather than suffer from her aggressive brain cancer.

Maynard videotaped an emotional appeal to lawmakers, in her final days, pleading for them to give Californians the right to die as an option that was not available to her in the state. Maynard passed last November by exercising Oregon’s Die With Dignity law. Before passing, Maynard spoke with Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the California End of Life Option Law in October 2015.

The new law will be a change for doctors with not all participating in the legislature.

“If they are feeling charitable at all they will help people that are at the end of their lives who are their patients,” said Girsh. “It’s complicated for doctors. There’s a lot of paperwork required. Some doctors probably feel that it’s a risk and that it’s more trouble than its worth.” And, Girsh added, “some hospital systems are preventing doctors from using it.

“The entire thing is voluntary on the patient’s part, the pharmacist’s part, the hospice’s part, the doctor’s part, the whole system’s part. It’s entirely voluntary so the hospital system, like catholic hospital systems, can say doctors in this system can’t prescribe drugs – that would prohibit all the doctors that work within those systems to not prescribe. That really makes it difficult for people to get help.”

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