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First Anniversary of California Law

One year after the California End of Life Option Act took effect, data released by the California Department of Public Health and compiled by Compassion & Choices show the law is working very well.

At least 500 terminally ill adults in California have received prescriptions for medical aid in dying based on inquiries to Compassion & Choices’ Doc2Doc consultation program (800.247.7421 or [email protected]). However, the total number of prescriptions written statewide will be significantly higher since not every terminally ill Californian who wanted an aid-in-dying prescription contacted Compassion & Choices.

Further 498 healthcare facilities and 104 hospice locations have adopted policies supportive of patient choice and of their staff who choose to participate in the law. About 80 percent of private insurance companies have covered the cost of medication, including Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter, and all Medi-Cal plans.

“The personal stories of the people who have utilized the law show it has provided comfort and relief from intolerable suffering, just as the state Legislature intended it to do,” said Compassion & Choices California State Director Matt Whitaker. Manhattan Beach retired psychologist Dr. John Minor, Ph.D. is a good example. He died using medical aid in dying to peacefully end his suffering from interstitial pneumonitis, a terminal lung disease, at age 80 on Sept. 15, 2016.

“Even with morphine … the pain is so intense that no amount of medication will allow me to continue my life,” Minor wrote 15 days before taking his aid-in-dying medication. “With such a diminished quality of life, the fear of suffocating on my own mucus and experiencing my final moments alone in terror, I have long considered assisted dying a rational option.”

“Though he didn’t wish to die, he no longer had to fear the worst in the manner of his dying. Our father’s gratitude toward Compassion & Choices, and the legislators who stood behind them, swelled with enormity,” said his daughter Valerie Minor-Johnson. “We had the rare and powerful opportunity to let each other know how much love we had for each other, say our goodbyes and be there for our dad’s final moments. We have not one regret.”

Still, for a number of patients in California, finding a doctor willing to help can be difficult, in part because the state’s law allows doctors to opt out of prescribing, even when the hospital where they work participates in the law.

And a California superior court ruled earlier this month that a lawsuit, Ahn vs. Hestrin, to overturn the California End of Life Option Act will proceed to trial to determine the merits of the case. The lawsuit claims the law violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the U.S. and California constitutions and that the legislature did not have the legal authority to pass the law during a special session on healthcare.

“Overturning the End of Life Option Act would have devastating consequences for terminally ill Californians and their families,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “While we respect the plaintiffs’ personal opposition to the law, they don’t have to participate in it. They certainly should not be able to take away the ability of other doctors to offer this option to dying patients to peacefully end their suffering.”