The latest update for the End of Life Option Act Law came in February of 2019 when the Supreme Court of California denied the plaintiffs’ petition to overrule the enaction of this law. Since this law has gone into effect on June 9th, 2016 it was met with opposition immediately (Death with Dignity, 2019). Though it’s legality has been in limbo since it’s enactment, still 374 terminally ill patients were able to make use of this law while it fights to remain legal. Many other states have followed in the footsteps of Oregon who passed the first death with dignity laws in the country.
The creation of this law started out as Senate Bill 128. The whole process was prompted by the high-profile death of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian who moved to Oregon last year after being diagnosed with an aggressive cancer her doctors said would kill her within months. Oregon and four other states at the time allowed the terminally ill to end their lives through doctor-assisted suicide, while California did not. Maynard worked to change that during her final months of life, teaming up with a “death with dignity” advocacy organization and recording videos pleading with policymakers to allow the sickest patients to choose their own fate.
When it comes to advocacy, the first thing that cones to mind is this end of life act. We as medical professionals know the difference between approving the quality of life compared to prolonging suffering. We are cursed with seeing first hand what some patients go through and know that dying with a peaceful death would be the best course of action regarding that patients care. Or at the very least just having the legal ability to do so if they choose. For politician’s to get involved and try to impose suffering on dying individuals who’s pain they cannot feel seems morally wrong on so many levels. It is my wish that this law meets no more opposition and stays enacted to help the many people who could benefit from such autonomy.
This bill would enact the End of Life Option Act authorizing an adult who meets certain qualifications, and who has been determined by his or her attending physician to be suffering from a terminal disease to make a request for a drug prescribed pursuant to these provisions for the purpose of ending his or her life. The bill would establish the procedures for making these requests. The bill would also establish specified forms to request an aid-in-dying drug, under specified circumstances This bill would require specified information to be documented in the individual’s medical record, including, among other things, all oral and written requests for an aid-in-dying drug.
AB-282 is an amendment that was added to the End of Life Option Act in 2018. This amendment would prohibit a person whose actions are compliant with the End of Life Option Act from being prosecuted for deliberately aiding, advising, or encouraging.
History of Support/Opposition
This bill began its ground level in 1976 when the Natural Death Act passed protecting physicians from being sued for failing to treat incurable illnesses at the request of the patient. More progress was made after Elizabeth Bouvia, a quadriplegic suffering from cerebral palsy sued a California hospital to let her die of self-starvation while receiving comfort care. Though she lost her case and appeal, it created the momentum for the Americans Against Human Suffering Act to be founded in 1986 which would eventually become the 1992 California Death with Dignity Act. Though this act failed short of being passed in California other states were making leaps of progress. Oregon passes the first law that gives patients suffering from a terminal illness to have physician assisted deaths in 1994. After many failures and amendments, real progress wouldn’t be made until a California resident who was terminally ill made international news by becoming the face of the death with dignity movement pleading California to adopt the laws that Oregon created.
The law finally gets passed in May of 2016 but is met with opposition right away. Anti-choice physicians challenged the implementation of the law and had it set for trial. Luckily many of the oppositions were shut down overwhelmingly but all the extra attention uncovered a technicality in the passing of the law. A judge filed a motion ruling that the law was void and unconstitutional because it was passed during a special session limited to healthcare. During this void Californian terminally ill patients were once again not legally allowed to end their suffering in this state. By August the court of appeals overturned the judges ruling and the bill was signed into law the following month.
The role of advocacy is to fight for those who are not able to fight for themselves. To me there is no greater fight than the final battle a patient has with their illness. And most people want to end their life on their own terms while they still can. I honestly don’t understand the counter argument that people have developed against the End of Life Option Act. Their lack of evidenced based support regarding the rhetoric they created still hasn’t seemed to stop their opposition regardless. Though this law took almost 30 years to become an established part of our legal system, and faces challenges everyday against physicians and politicians, it still seems to be on the path moving forward not just here in California but throughout the U.S. I just hope one day people can see how beneficial this act is looking through the eyes of the patient. There are things in this world that are worse than death, there is evidence of that just by the creation of this law. Patients everywhere deserve the autonomy and support to make the decisions to either continue their life or end their life. The progress has been made for California but hopefully in the next few years these same opportunities will be available for all patients in this country.
- AB-15. End of Life Option Act. Death with Dignity. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.deathwithdignity.org/death-with-dignity-california-history/
- AB-15 End of Life. California Legislative Information. (2016). Retrieved from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520162AB15
- https://www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/ct-california-assisted-death-figures-2017-20180622-story.htmlDon Thompson. Chicago Tribune. Nearly 400 People Used California Assisted Death Law in 2017. (2017). Retrieved by https://www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/ct-california-assisted-death-figures-2017-20180622-story.html