Improvements to California End of Life Option Act Led to 47% Jump in Use in 2022

August 8, 2023

Enhanced Law Working as Lawmakers Intended: to Increase Access for Dying Californians

A new report on California’s End of Life Option Act that allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults to use medical aid in dying to gently end their suffering shows 47% more Californians used the law in 2022, increasing access to the law exactly as intended.

The new report by the California Department of Public Health shows this increase is largely due to a reduction in the law’s waiting period between the mandatory two oral requests for aid-in-dying medication from 15 days to 48 hours thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 380, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2022. A 2018 study by Kaiser Permanente Southern California showed more than one out of five terminally ill adults (21%) who requested to use the End of Life Option Act died during the 15-day waiting period, suffering needlessly because they ran out of time to obtain the aid-in-dying medication.

The Department of Public Health report shows 1,270 terminally ill Californians received prescriptions for medical aid in dying and 853 patients (65%) took the medication in 2022 (0.28% of the state’s 308,015 annual deaths). More than 95% (814) of these terminally ill Californians “were receiving hospice and/or palliative care” and nearly four of out five, “947 individuals, or 78.7%, waited less than 15 days between the two verbal requests,” the report states.

Compassion & Choices President & CEO, Kim Callinan

Compassion & Choices President and CEO, Kim Callinan

“This report shows the improved law shortening the waiting period is working exactly as lawmakers intended: allowing hundreds of terminally ill Californians to die peacefully last year who otherwise would have died needlessly suffering,” said Kim Callinan, president and CEO of Compassion & Choices and Compassion & Choices Action Network, which led the campaigns to pass both the 2015 End of Life Option Act and Senate Bill 380 to reduce the waiting period. “We are grateful for Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman and Rep. Jim Wood for championing this crucial improvement in the law.”

Three in four Californians (75%) support the End of Life Option Act according to a 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%).

Despite this widespread support, a far higher proportion of whites (89%) utilized the law in 2022 than other ethnic/racial groups combined (11%), even though whites represent only 36.5 percent of the state’s population. In contrast, just four American Indian/Alaska Native Californians (0.5%), four Black Californians (0.5%), 54 Asian Californians (6.3%) and 24 Hispanic Californians (2.8%) utilized the law in 2022, even though these communities collectively represent a higher percentage of the state’s population (American Indian/Alaska Native: 1.7%, Black Californians: 6.5%, Asian Californians: 15.5%, Hispanic Californians: 39.4%).

“Our leadership councils for the African American community, the Latino community, and the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community are designed to inform these communities about the full range of end-of-life options to ensure that all communities are able to access care consistent with their values and priorities,” said Callinan.

California is one of 10 states — including Colorado, HawaiiMaine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — as well as Washington, D.C., that have authorized medical aid in dying. Collectively these 11 jurisdictions represent more than one out of five U.S. residents (22%) and have decades of combined experience using this end-of-life care option, starting with Oregon in 1997.

Compassion & Choices
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