500 pa­tients re­quested life-end­ing drugs un­der new Cal­i­for­nia law.

State’s physi­cian-as­sisted sui­cide law could pro­vide win­dow na­tion­wide

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY JULIE WAT­SON

SAN DIEGO | At least 504 ter­mi­nally ill Cal­i­for­ni­ans have re­quested a pre­scrip­tion for life-end­ing drugs since a state law al­low­ing physi­cian-as­sisted deaths went into ef­fect in June 2016, mark­ing the first pub­licly re­leased data on how the prac­tice is play­ing out in the na­tion’s most pop­u­lous state.

The num­ber rep­re­sents only those who have con­tacted Com­pas­sion & Choices, an ad­vo­cacy group that pro­vides in­for­ma­tion on the process. The or­ga­ni­za­tion be­lieves the over­all fig­ure to be much higher.

The group re­leased the data Thurs­day. State of­fi­cials have not re­leased fig­ures yet.

How the new law is uti­lized in trend-set­ting Cal­i­for­nia could pro­vide a win­dow into what would hap­pen if the prac­tice spreads na­tion­wide.

Some see pro­vid­ing the choice to the dy­ing as a log­i­cal evo­lu­tion in a med­i­cal care sys­tem ad­vanced in help­ing peo­ple live longer but lim­ited in pre­vent­ing slow, painful deaths.

“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 Matt Whi­taker, the group’s Cal­i­for­nia direc­tor. “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.”

Ore­gon was the first state to adopt such a law in 1997. It re­ported 204 peo­ple re­ceived such pre­scrip­tions in 2016, and of those, 133 peo­ple died from in­gest­ing the drugs, in­clud­ing 19 pre­scrip­tion re­cip­i­ents from prior years. Most were older than 65 and had can­cer.

Doc­tor-as­sisted deaths are also le­gal in Colorado, Mon­tana, Ver­mont, Wash­ing­ton and the Dis­trict of Columbia.

Un­der Cal­i­for­nia’s law, pa­tients must be given six months or less to live, make two ver­bal re­quests within 15 days of each other and sub­mit a writ­ten re­quest. Still, crit­ics say con­cerns re­main that it will lead to hasty de­ci­sions, mis­di­ag­no­sis and wan­ing sup­port for pal­lia­tive care, in which dy­ing peo­ple can be se­dated to re­lieve suf­fer­ing.

The law passed in Cal­i­for­nia af­ter 29-year-old Brit­tany May­nard, who was dy­ing from brain can­cer, had to move to Ore­gon in 2014 so she could end her life.

The Cal­i­for­nia law is be­ing chal­lenged by the Life Le­gal De­fense Foun­da­tion, Amer­i­can Academy of Med­i­cal Ethics and sev­eral physi­cians who say de­ter­min­ing when some­one has six months or less to live is an ar­bi­trary de­ci­sion that opens the door for abuse.

A hear­ing is sched­uled for June 16. Ac­cord­ing to Com­pas­sion & Choices, 498 health care fa­cil­i­ties and 104 hospice cen­ters in Cal­i­for­nia have adopted poli­cies to al­low for such pre­scrip­tions. More than 80 per­cent of in­sur­ance com­pa­nies in the state also cover the cost of the drugs, ac­cord­ing to the group.

Betsy Davis was among the first Cal­i­for­ni­ans to use the law. The 41-year-old artist with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease, held a party in the moun­tain town of Ojai to say good­bye to her fam­ily and friends be­fore tak­ing the lethal dose of drugs July 24.

Her sis­ter, Kelly Davis, said the fam­ily has no re­grets re­gard­ing her de­ci­sion.

“It’s only strength­ened my be­lief in the law,” Kelly Davis said. “Some­times I think about where she would have been in the pro­gres­sion of the ill­ness at this point. Would she be on a breath­ing ma­chine? Would she be able to eat? I think the an­swer would be yes to the breath­ing ma­chine and no to the eat­ing. I think how much it would have bro­ken my heart to see her suf­fer­ing. The fact she had that op­tion, she em­braced that op­tion, it gave her back a sense of con­trol.”

Sherry Mi­nor called the law her 80-year-old hus­band’s “great­est re­lief.” Re­tired psy­chol­o­gist Dr. John Mi­nor took the lethal drugs in Sept. 15 to end his suf­fer­ing from ter­mi­nal lung dis­ease. He wrote two weeks be­fore dy­ing that even mor­phine was not enough for the in­tense pain.

“It was such a mir­a­cle the law passed,” said Mrs. Mi­nor, 79, of Man­hat­tan Beach, out­side Los Angeles. “He was so in­cred­i­bly lucky in that way. It was im­por­tant for us to know that he go the way he wanted to go.”


Betsy Davis (cen­ter), a 41-year-old artist with ALS held a party in Ojai, Cal­i­for­nia to say good­bye to her fam­ily be­fore tak­ing a lethal dose of drugs last July. At least 504 ter­mi­nally ill Cal­i­for­ni­ans have re­quested a pre­scrip­tion for life-end­ing drugs since a state law al­low­ing physi­cian-as­sisted deaths went into ef­fect.

A physi­cianas­sisted sui­cide law passed in Cal­i­for­nia in June 2016 af­ter 29-yearold Brit­tany May­nard, who was dy­ing from brain can­cer. could end her life. Her mother, Deb­bie Ziegler, holds her photo.

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