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California Assembly Judiciary Committee Passes Legislation to Keep, Improve End of Life Option Act

SB 380 Continues to Roll, Heads to Assembly Appropriations Committee

(Sacramento, CA – July 6, 2021) Compassion & Choices Action Network today applauded the California State Assembly Judiciary Committee for passing Senate Bill 380 by a vote of 6-1.  SB 380, co-authored by Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa), would improve access to the California End of Life Option Act and make it permanent. The bill now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The California End of Life Option Act, implemented five years ago last month, gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live, the option to request a prescription for medication they can decide to take to peacefully end unbearable suffering. The legislation included a provision that would expire at the end of 2025 unless new legislation is passed.

“Right now I am here as the life partner of someone who used medical aid in dying last week to peacefully end his terminal suffering,” testified Dr. Catherine Sonquist Forest, a clinical associate professor of family and community medicine and a public health specialist in Los Altos, at a hearing. “[My husband] Will suffered immense anxiety about whether he would be able to survive the 15-day waiting period, as his condition rapidly deteriorated. Despite the barriers he faced, my Will was able to peacefully end his suffering on his terms. I beseech you to vote YES on SB 380 – not only for the dozens of patients whose stories I have heard or whose families I have met – but also for my true love of my life: Will Forest.”

“We applaud the Assembly Judiciary Committee for taking the bold step of helping to improve and make the California End of Life Option Act permanent,” said Kim Callinan, president/CEO of the Compassion & Choices Action Network. “We are now one compassionate step closer towards bringing peace of mind to many terminally ill Californians and their families.”

SB 380 would remove regulatory roadblocks to accessing the End of Life Option Act that impede or prevent hundreds of qualified terminally ill adult Californians from using medical aid-in-dying to peacefully end their suffering. It would make several important improvements to the End of Life Option Act, including:

  • Eliminate the original law’s sunset clause, making it a permanent statute.
  • Reduce the mandatory minimum 15-day waiting period between the two oral requests for aid-in-dying medication to 48 hours for all eligible patients. (In April, New Mexico’s governor signed a similar medical aid-in-dying law passed by the state legislature in March that requires a 48-hour waiting period between the time the prescription is written and when it is filled.)
  • Healthcare systems and hospices would have to post their medical aid-in-dying policies on their websites, increasing transparency for terminally ill patients who need prompt access to this information.

A new report on California’s law that allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults to use medical aid in dying to peacefully end their suffering shows that slightly fewer people used the law in 2020 compared to 2019, showing the need to improve access to the law by passing SB 380.

The California Department of Public Health released a report last week on the End of Life Option Act showing 667 terminally ill Californians obtained prescriptions for medical aid in dying written by 262 unique physicians, and 435 patients (65%) took the medication in 2020 (.14% of the state’s 314,982 annual deaths).

A higher proportion of whites are participating in the law compared to Black Californians, Asian Californians, and Hispanic Californians. In fact, 380 white Californians (87%) utilized the law in 2020, yet they represent 36.5 percent of the state’s population. In contrast, just four Black Californians (0.9%), 33 Asian Californians (7.6%), and 15 Hispanic Californians (3.4%) utilized the law, but these demographic groups represent a higher percentage of the state’s population (Black Californians: 6.5%; Asian Californians: 15.5%; Hispanic Californians: 39.4%).

Three in four Californians (75%) support the End of Life Option Act, according to an October 2019 survey by the California Health Care Foundation, including a majority of every demographic group surveyed: Hispanic Californians (68%), Black Californians (70%); Asian Californians (76%), and White Californians (82%).

The legislation has been moving with strong support through the California legislative process. SB 380 recently passed through the Assembly Health Committee last month by a 10-3 vote and the State Senate passed the bill in May by a vote of 26-8.

Since the law took effect June 9, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2020, 2,858 terminally ill Californians have received prescriptions and 1,816 patients (63.5%) took the medication. This medication usage ratio is common among the other jurisdictions where medical aid in dying is utilized. About one-third of terminally ill people who get a prescription for aid-in-dying medication never use it, but just having it on hand gives them a great sense of relief to know they can take it if they need it. In addition, medical aid-in-dying laws often increase hospice usage rates; 87.4 percent of the patients who got a prescription in California were receiving hospice and/or palliative care.

In the five years of access to medical aid in dying in California, the safeguards and protections in the End of Life Option Act have proven effective, with no reported instances of abuse or coercion. The law works safely for those who can access it, but there is evidence that many eligible patients are unable to access the law.

A study by Kaiser Permanente Southern California shows one-third of terminally ill adults who request to use the End of Life Option Act died before completing the time-consuming process. The current process under the law, including the 15-day waiting period, in reality often takes weeks or months to finish. Using this one-third ratio, more than 1,400  individuals statewide have died before obtaining a prescription (more than 300 people on an annual basis) vs. the nearly 2,900 who completed the process and received prescriptions for medical aid-in-dying.

For more information about SB 380, Click HERE.

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ABOUT COMPASSION & CHOICES ACTION NETWORK/COMPASSION & CHOICES

Compassion & Choices is comprised of two organizations that improve care and expand options at life’s end: Compassion & Choices (501(c)(3)) educates, empowers, defends, and advocates; the Compassion & Choices Action Network (501(c)(4)) focuses exclusively on legislation, ballot campaigns, and limited electoral work.

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CompassionAndChoices.org/California


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