Thursday, June 9, 2016

California's right to die law goes into effect today

Santa Cruz Sentinel     Helen Handelsman has been waiting for this day.

Diagnosed in 2013 with late-stage breast cancer, her second bout with the disease, the San Francisco resident has a few wishes: to make it to her 85th birthday in January, and to ask her doctor for a lethal drug prescription under California’s new right-to-die law.

“I want to tell him that this is what I want,” said the grandmother, who now can feel the tumors developing under her collarbone.

“I’ve watched my sister and my father and my son-in-law die from cancer,” she said. “It was morally wrong to keep these people alive when there was no hope they would survive. And the pain can be so horrible.”

Eight months after it was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, California’s controversial End of Life Option Act goes into effect Thursday.

The law allows mentally capable adults, diagnosed with six months or less to live, to ask doctors for prescriptions to end their lives when they choose.

For Handelsman and many other terminally ill Bay Area residents, the physician aid-in-dying law comes as a relief. Patients may decide against using the medication, but just knowing it is there, they say, gives them solace.

Yet, to opponents who continue to rail against its implementation, the law remains a dangerous overreach by the state. Foes argue that it places patients — especially the elderly — at risk for coercion, with little support for other options, and no requirement of witnesses to their self-administered deaths.[...]

This law does not apply to everyone equally,” said Tim Rosales, a spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide.

He pointed to annual state reports from Oregon and Washington — where right-to-die laws have been in place for years — that say one of the biggest reasons people choose aid-in-dying is their fear of being a burden to their family, friends and caregivers.

“That is very telling, certainly when you are looking at the economic diversity across the board,” Rosales said, referring to the pressure some low-income residents may feel about leaving their families with mountains of medical bills.

But the data from those states also reveal that relatively few people each year use the law, and about one-third of those who receive prescriptions never take the medication.

Of 218 prescriptions written in Oregon in 2015, 132 people had died from taking the medication as of mid-January.

Similarly, of 176 prescriptions written in Washington in 2014, 126 patients died after ingesting their medication.

Given California’s larger population, state officials estimate that 1,500 residents annually will seek lethal prescriptions.[...]

If that’s her choice, Hammer said, she should have that right. But with palliative and hospice care, he said, doctors can help terminally ill patients control their pain, allowing them to die “fairly peacefully and fairly comfortably.” [...]

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