The California End of Life Option Act takes effect June 9, authorizing 12 percent of terminally ill adults nationwide to have the option to request medical aid in dying if their suffering becomes intolerable. The other states that previously authorized medical aid in dying – Oregon (1997), Washington (2008), Montana (2009) and Vermont (2013) – comprise 4 percent of the nation’s population.
“This is a monumental day for Californians suffering from terminal diseases. Many dying Californians – like Jennifer Glass and Christy O’Donnell – spent their final months advocating for this option that finally is a reality,” said Matt Whitaker, California State Director for Compassion & Choices.
“Based on the experience with similar laws in other states, less than 1 percent of terminally ill Californians will need to utilize medical aid in dying,” said Whitaker. “But simply having the option gives them peace of mind that often has a palliative effect. This law is spurring open, honest conversations among California families about end-of-life care options that were not taking place before.”
The new law’s implementation is a tremendous relief for Elizabeth Wallner, a 52-year old Sacramento single mom living with terminal colon cancer who endured 6 surgeries to remove parts of my liver and colon. She has undergone radiation, radio-ablation and other treatments that offer even the slightest hope of extending her life.
“I am relieved to know the End of Life Option Act will take effect, and I can ask my surgeon for prescription medication that I can decide to ingest if my suffering becomes intolerable in the final stages of this deadly disease which will allow me to die peacefully in my sleep,” she said. “But just because I will have this option does not mean my life will end on June 9. In fact, I will continue to live life to the fullest and care for my aging parents.”
Matt Fairchild, a Catholic, 46-year-old, retired Army staff sergeant from Burbank living with terminal melanoma that has spread to his bones, lungs and brain said he and his wife of 18 years, Ginger, felt a sense of relief.
“I don’t know if I will take the aid-in-dying medication once I get it, or if nature will just take its course, but I want the option to end my suffering if it becomes too much to endure,” said Fairchild, who takes 20 pills a day to treat his cancer symptoms and has undergone numerous surgeries to extend his life. “Ironically, having the aid-in-dying medication in hand will enable me to focus on living, not on dying.”
Compassion & Choices recently launched a statewide bilingual campaign to educate terminally ill Californians, families and medical providers about the benefits and requirements of the state’s medical aid-in-dying law. California doctors, pharmacists and residents can access information on the End of Life Option Act by calling Compassion & Choices’ free hotline, 1-800-893-4548, or by visiting: www.EndOfLifeOption.org. California physicians also can speak to doctors with years of experience in end-of-life care options, including medical aid in dying, by calling Compassion & Choices’ free, confidential Doc2Doc consultation program: 1-800-247-7421.
“A central part of medical aid in dying is that it preserves the relationship between a terminally ill person and her or his doctor,” said Dr. Catherine S. Forest, MD MPH, medical director at the Stanford Health Care at Los Altos, clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine and a practicing family physician for over 20 years. “It allows a doctor to honor each person’s unique condition and circumstance when writing the prescription, just as they do in writing a prescription for any and/or every other medication.”
Dan Diaz, Brittany Maynard’s widower, who lives in Alamo and advocated for the California End of Life Option Act and now is advocating for similar legislation in other states, shared with a sense of pride as he recalled his late wife.
“The end-of-life option that Brittany supported will now become law in our home state of California on June 9th,” he said. “This means a terminally ill individual will not have to leave home like we did and that individual can pursue this option of a gentle passing if it becomes necessary for them.”
As part of the California Access Campaign, Compassion & Choices is partnering with medical centers, hospice facilities, community health centers and nonprofit organizations to ensure Californians statewide understand that medical aid in dying is a legitimate, accessible end-of-life care option.