In March of this year, I featured a three part guest post series on end of life care and it included choices and preparing for end of life. One of those choices in California is being threatened this week. The California attorney general for filed an emergency request late Monday with the state court of appeals to reverse a lower court ruling to invalidate the End of Life Option Act. The End of Life Option Act remains in effect until further notice.
Similar to laws in Washington, D.C. and six other states, the California law gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to the option to request prescription medication they can decide to take to end unbearable suffering and die peacefully in their sleep.
Last Tuesday, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia invalidated the law because he claimed the legislature violated the state constitution by passing it during a special session limited to health care issues. He gave Attorney General Xavier Becerra five days to file the emergency request to reverse his ruling in the case, Ahn vs. Hestrin — Case RIC1607135.
"The enactment fell within the scope of the special session called, in part, to consider efforts to 'improve the efficiency and efficacy of the health care system ... and improve the health of Californians,'” says the attorney general’s appeal filed in the 4th District Court of Appeal. "As the Governor indicated, the Act deals with pain, suffering, and the comfort of having the health care options afforded by the Act."
This is an important intervention, because polling shows 76 percent of Californians across the political and demographic spectrum support medical aid in dying. This majority support includes 82 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents, 67 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of whites, Latinos and Asian Americans, and 52 percent of African Americans.
Words cannot express the gratitude and relief that I feel thanks to this action by Attorney General Becerra,” said Matt Fairchild, a 48-year-old, retired Army staff sergeant in Burbank who advocated for the law and takes 26 medication to manage his symptoms from terminal melanoma that has spread to his bones, lungs and brain. “Knowing I still have the option of medical aid in dying if my suffering becomes intolerable brings me comfort because I will not have to endure a needlessly agonizing death.”
Last June, Compassion & Choices released a report estimating that 504 Californians have received prescriptions for medical aid in dying since it took effect on June 9, 2016. Last July, the California Department of Public Health released a report showing 191 terminally ill Californians received prescriptions from 173 doctors for aid-in-dying medication during the nearly seven month period from June 9, 2016 until Dec. 31, 2016; 111 of those individuals (58%) decided to self-ingest the medication.
California is one of seven states — including Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Hawai‘i — as well as the District of Columbia, that have authorized medical aid in dying. Collectively, these eight jurisdictions represent nearly one out of five Americans (19%).