San Francisco Chronicle
State may shorten assisted death process
SACRAMENTO — California would streamline its assisted death process, making it easier for terminally ill patients to obtain a lethal prescription and end their lives on their own terms, under a bill sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
If signed by Newsom, SB380 would shorten a mandatory 15 days that patients must wait between making two separate requests for the life-ending drugs to just 48 hours. Advocates estimate that thousands of Californians who sought to use assisted death have died before they were able to complete the process because they became too sick to continue.
The bill, by state Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, would also extend the law, which is set to expire in 2026, for five years.
“It is time to remove unnecessary barriers,” Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino (San Bernardino County), said on the Senate floor Friday, “and ensure that all eligible, terminally ill individuals will have the right to remain autonomous and die with dignity in the manner that they desire.”
The Legislature originally approved assisted death in 2015, after acrimonious and emotional debates over the morality of the proposal. But the follow-up measure generated relatively little controversy as it worked its way through the Capitol this session, a reflection of how it has since established itself as a widely accepted option at the end of life.
No members spoke against the bill Friday as it passed 47-14 in the Assembly and 26-8 in the state Senate. A spokesperson for Newsom said he does not comment on pending legislation.
Currently, California adults seeking the lethal medication must confirm with two doctors that they have less than six months to live and are mentally capable of making their own medical decisions. They must also make two spoken requests, a minimum of 15 days apart, and submit a written request, signed and dated by two witnesses, to the physician who will write them a prescription. Then they must fill out a final attestation, 48 hours before ingesting the drug, that they are doing so voluntarily.
The stringent rules were put in place to assuage concerns — raised by Catholic groups and other religiously-affiliated organizations, as well as advocates for disabled people and some lawmakers — that vulnerable patients might be coerced into ending their lives prematurely or change their minds after initially seeking a lethal prescription.
But advocates for assisted death say there have been no documented cases of abuse with the law.
Meanwhile, one hospital study found that a third of patients who inquired about assisted death died before completing the process or became too ill to continue. Fewer than a quarter of the patients ultimately received the lethal prescription.
Only 2,858 state residents obtained a prescription and 1,816 died by ingesting the medication between June 2016 and the end of last year, according to state data. That means there could be thousands more who have unsuccessfully pursued assisted death.
Other provisions of Eggman’s measure would eliminate the final attestation for patients before they take the lethal medication and require doctors who refuse to participate in the assisted death law, which is optional, to document a patient’s request and transfer their medical record.
Disability rights and Catholic groups continue to oppose the measure, citing concerns that the high cost of medical care could pressure some patients into choosing death instead.