California Medical Aid-in-Dying Law Working Very Well as 1st Anniversary Approaches
(Sacramento, CA – June 1, 2017) One year after the California End of Life Option Act — inspired by the advocacy of terminally ill Californian Brittany Maynard — took effect, data and personal stories compiled by Compassion & Choices show the law is working very well, just as the state legislature intended. The law gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable.
California is 1 of 6 states where medical aid in dying is authorized — Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — along with the District of Columbia that represent 18 percent of the nation’s population. Since the California law took effect on June 9, 2016:
12,300 doctors, pharmacists and other people have visited Compassion & Choices’ dedicated bilingual Access Campaign website to learn about how the California law works: www.compassionandchoices.org/c
At least 504 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]
rg). 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.
498 healthcare facilities (e.g., Kaiser Permanente, UCSF, Stanford, Tenet, Sutter, UCLA) and 104 hospice locations (e.g., Vitas, Seasons and Gentiva) have adopted policies supportive of patient choice and supportive of their doctors and medical professionals who choose to participate in the law. Terminally ill adults in California who want medical aid in dying can find healthcare systems supportive of patient choice near them by visiting the online Find Care tool: www.compassionandchoices.org/f
About 80 percent of private insurance companies have covered the cost of medication, including Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter, many local health plans and all Medi-Cal plans.
Compassion & Choices has educated 400 doctors about the law via statewide education outreach and conducted 60 one-on-one calls with doctors via our toll-free Doc2Doc consultation program phone line: 800.247.7421. Compassion & Choices also provided free education to hospices across the state.
Compassion & Choices staff and volunteers have provided more than 400 public presentations statewide and encouraged Californians to take a more active role in their healthcare by demanding access to all of their available end-of-life care options.
“My wife Brittany would be proud that her advocacy inspired our legislators to pass this law that enabled hundreds of terminally ill Californians over the past year to avoid tortuous suffering,” said Dan Diaz, who is working with Compassion & Choices to advocate for similar laws in states across the country. “Like Brittany, these terminally ill Californians didn’t want to die — but they were dying — and just wanted the option to die peacefully. I am even more appreciative today that our legislators ignored the naysayers and did the right thing for their constituents.”
“We won’t have the full picture until the state releases its data about how many people have utilized the law, but we have enough evidence to show it is working remarkably well in a state with 10 times Oregon’s population,” said Compassion & Choices California State Director Matt Whitaker. “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.”
Manhattan Beach retired psychologist Dr. John Minor, Ph.D. is a good example. He died utilizing medical aid in dying to peacefully end his suffering from terminal 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.”
Los Angeles resident Bob Stone entered hospice with terminal multiple myeloma at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California on June 9, 2016, the day the End of Life Option Act took effect in California and utilized medical aid in dying to peacefully end his suffering at age 69 on Sept. 10, 2016. Bob was diagnosed in April 2015 with late stage 3 multiple myeloma. After 16 weeks of chemo, he made the decision to stop all treatment and let the disease take its course.
“Thanks to medical aid in dying, Bob died peacefully, gratefully and on his own terms, with me by his side,” said his ex-wife Roberta Stone, who remained close to Bob after their marriage ended. “His last words were that the medication was ‘good,’ clearly relieved he was ending his agonizing dying process.”
Despite the law’s success, opponents of the End of Life Option Act still are trying to overturn it in court. Last August, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia rejected a preliminary injunction motion that was filed by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, American Academy of Medical Ethics and several physicians to suspend the state’s new medical aid-in-dying law, concluding the law does not violate the Hippocratic Oath of “Do No Harm.” But he allowed their lawsuit to move forward. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for June 16.
At the first hearing in the lawsuit last August, the plaintiffs’ attorney used a projector to show the courtroom the death certificate of 41-year-old Betsy Davis, an artist from Ojai who utilized medical aid in dying to peacefully end her suffering from ALS on July 24, 2016 (see hearing transcript starting on page 22 posted here: http://bit.ly/CAaidOpp82616).
“The plaintiffs’ attorney insultingly said Betsy was a ‘victim’ of this law that gave her the option to take medication to die peacefully in her sleep, at home, surrounded by her loved ones, rather than prolong her intolerable dying process,” said her dad, Jay Davis. “He should know better than to drag my grieving family into a lawsuit to overturn the law that enabled my daughter to decide the manner and timing of how she would die from a disease that always is terminal.”
Compassion & Choices will continue to provide education to the public and medical professionals through its bilingual Access Campaign to ensure that every eligible terminally ill person has access to the End of Life Option Act.