Don’t play politics with dying Californians

March 14, 2018

The following op-ed appeared in the Sacramento Bee on March 14, 2018:

Lawmakers have to strike a balance between rules that safeguard patients and excessive regulations that make it difficult for patients to access health care. Adding more rules sometimes does more harm than good, and new legislation to amend California’s End of Life Option Act is a classic example.

On Jan. 24, the chairwoman of the Assembly Select Committee on End of Life Health Care, Susan Talamantes Eggman, held the first hearing about implementing the new medical aid-in-dying law, which took effect in June 2016. The law gives mentally capable adults with six months or less to live the option to request prescription medication so they die peacefully if their suffering becomes unbearable.

During the hearing, patients, doctors, health system representatives and others confirmed that the law is helping terminally ill Californians. Concerns about abuse and coercion have proved to be completely unfounded. In fact, the consensus was that the process for obtaining the medication is too complicated and burdensome. It’s difficult to find a doctor who will prescribe. There’s too much paperwork, and the waiting period is too long. There are, quite simply, too many hoops for a dying person to get through.

But less than one month later, state Sen. Mike Morrell, a Rancho Cucamonga Republican, introduced legislation that will make it more difficult for dying patients to use the law. Senate Bill 1336 would add invasive and unnecessary reporting requirements that would deter physicians from participating and raise another barrier for patients.

Among the needless mandates are two provisions that are not even in Oregon’s 20-year old Death with Dignity Act, the model for California’s new law. SB 1336 would require patients to justify why they want to use the law verbally and in writing, and would also mandate doctors identify their specialty.

SB 1336 is a thinly veiled attempt by opponents of medical aid in dying to make it impossible for patients to use the law and to gather data that they believe will help them to overturn the law entirely.

Ironically, physicians are not required to report about other end-of-life care options, such as palliative sedation, which involves injections to induce a coma, then withholding nutrition and fluids until the patient dies of either dehydration or the underlying disease. Since it requires someone other than the patient to administer the medication, palliative sedation poses far more risk of abuse or coercion.

Dying people should get to spend their last days with their loved ones, not filling out paperwork, responding to intrusive questions, or desperately searching for a doctor. Let’s keep the End of Life Option Act about humanity and compassion, not government intrusion and overreach.

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