CA's Assisted Suicide Law Is Now in Effect

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 09, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A California law allowing terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to receive a prescription for a lethal dose of "aid-in-dying" drugs went into effect today. The California End of Life Option Act makes the Golden State just the fifth state to allow physician-assisted suicide and was hotly debated but ultimately unopposed by the California Medical Association.

Now that the law is in effect, who can ask for aid in dying and how will physician-assisted suicide be regulated?

Welfare of the Patient

Under the statute, terminally ill patients must make three formal requests to their attending physician asking for lethal drugs: one written and two oral, with the oral requests delivered at least 15 days apart. Physicians must get informed consent from their patients and patients must administer the lethal drugs themselves.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the California Medical Association issued 15 pages worth of additional guidelines for physician's under the new law, including:

  • Mandating physicians inform the patient that he or she may rescind the request for an aid-in-dying drug at any time and in any manner;
  • Prohibiting prescription requests on behalf of a patient, i.e., through an agent under a power of attorney, an advance healthcare directive, a conservator, or any other person;
  • Requiring mental health evaluations for patients with possible mental disorders before prescribing aid-in-dying drugs; and
  • Urging physicians to advise patients on the importance of ingesting the drug in private and having another person in the room when the drug is ingested.

Physicians uncomfortable with a request for lethal doses of drugs don't have to comply, nor are they required to refer the patient to another doctor.

Personal Dignity

As for the law's impact, that remains to be seen. Oregon passed a similar law in 1997 and saw 16 patients end their lives in the first year. By 2015 that annual number had risen to 132. California has almost 10 times the population of Oregon, and many doctors and hospitals will be required to figure out policies and procedures on their own.

If you have more questions about assisted suicide laws where you live, contact an experienced health care attorney in your area today.

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