As of last fall, California joined just a handful of other states to legalize the right of terminally ill patients to end their life with the assistance of a physician. The new law officially goes into effect on June 9th, 2016.
The California Right-to-Die law was modeled after a similar law in Oregon, but provides additional provisions to protect against abuse.
Under the new law a patient may request the necessary drugs from a doctor that will end their life, under certain conditions. The law protects the individual and their doctor and anyone else involved from prosecution if the terms of the law are followed correctly. The terms of the new law state the patient must:
- Be an adult
- Be of sound mind and have the ability to make medical decisions
- Have a terminal disease that will result in death in the next six months
- Express a desire to receive the drugs
- Be a California resident
- Have the physical and mental ability to administer the drugs themselves
- Document the request for aid-in-dying drug by:
- Making two oral requests at least 15 days apart
- Submit a separate written request on the correct form and be signed by the patient and two other witnesses
- The witnesses must be of sound mind and not under duress, fraud or undue influence. The witness must also know the patient and prove their identity and voluntary sign in the presence of the patient
- The doctor or any consulting doctors may not act as a witness, nor any mental health specialist. Only one of the two witness may be a relative or someone that will inherit anything from the patient
- Sign the “final attestation” form within 48 hours of taking the drugs
It is important to note that insurance companies’ contracts cannot be conditioned to use, or not use these drugs.
Likewise, only the person who would be receiving the drugs can request them from a doctor. A Power of Attorney or Healthcare Agent cannot step in to make this request in the event the patient is incapacitated or otherwise unable to speak for him or herself.
Finally, the doctor must determine if the patient meets the requirements of the terms listed above. A second doctor must then confirm the terms. If either doctor believes the individual may have mental issues, a mental health specialist must be brought in to determine if the patient has the ability to make end-of-life decisions. Lastly the drugs must be self-administered by the patient.
Due to the experimental nature of the law and the unknown issues that may arise with the implementation, the Right-to-Die legislation will expire at the end of 2025 if additional legislation is not passed before.
Even though the access and administration of these drugs must be requested (and can only be requested) by the terminally ill person, it is still critical that you start discussing your wishes about physician-assisted suicide well before the use of such drugs would be necessary if this is an avenue you may be interested to explore.
Choosing the way you want to journey through the end of your life is extremely personal and your choices may be incredibly difficult, or sometimes impossible, for someone who deeply loves you to understand and accept. So, have these conversations about your wishes now, while they are not necessary. Then, contact a qualified estate planning attorney in Orange County who can help you legally document your wishes so that your desires are clear and that the rest of your legal affairs are properly set in order in preparation of utilizing right-to-die options.