Although physician-assisted suicide became legal in California in 2016, its advocates continue pushing to embed it deeply into the structure of California’s health care policies, to broaden its reach to non-terminal patients and to expand the controversial concept to other states.
The last two objectives have not made much headway, especially with many states rejecting the role of physicians in hastening the death of their patients.
On January 24, 2018 Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), who chairs a Select Committee on End of Life Health Care, will hold a hearing on the law to work on the first objective – embedding the concept more deeply in the State’s health care policies.
The hearing is almost certain to be a promotional event for physician-assisted suicide rather than a serious look at what is actually happening.
Eggman is a staunch advocate of state-supported assistance for death and was co-author of the 2016 measure legalizing the practice. The Select Committee she is chairing has only members who supported the bill and no lawmakers who raised any serious concerns during debate.
“The hearing will probably be a dog and pony show, a commercial for assisted suicide.” warns Tim Rosales, an advocate for patient rights. “It will be a way for assisted suicide advocates to whitewash and promote their legislation in other states.”
Those advocates are re-introducing legislation in states where the controversial concept has failed once already and are looking to produce “affirmation” from California that all is fine, explains Rosales.
Life defenders point to the danger that California’s End of Life Option Act (EOLOA) will become a vehicle to cut costs in California’s rapidly growing Medi-Cal program by “helping” people to use EOLOA instead of seeking palliative care, hospice and other effective end-of-life treatments.
“It is unconscionable that California is paying for doctors to help patients take their own lives while not adequately funding good, high-quality palliative care for all those patients,” says Edward “Ned” Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference.
“Vulnerable populations, especially the sickest and the most disadvantaged in California, are rightfully concerned about this bizarre set of priorities coming out of the State political leaders,” he said. “Where is the concern for the weakest among us?”
Dolejsi says there are some important questions that need to be addressed but are not likely to come up in the hearing:
“California spends a significant amount of money on protecting the elderly from abuse. But how do we keep them from being subtlety coerced into ending their own lives?”
Some problems with EOLOA are beginning to emerge as a record on doctor-assisted suicide in California starts to build.
A recent study of Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s use of the state’s EOLOA offered indications of how it can happen.
The Kaiser study looked at 379 people who inquired about using it to end their own lives in their southern California facilities.
The Kaiser study reported that 68 Kaiser patients died from doctor-prescribed drugs during the first year of the act’s life but the fate of 16 patients who actually received the drugs is unknown. In one case, the patient’s prognosis improved sufficiently that he or she did not go through with the suicide.
Despite the claims of proponents, data collection remains a significant problem in the process. Where the deadly drugs ended up, for instance, is not known.
During the review process 271 people were excluded. Another 15 were too ill to proceed through the process to obtain death drugs, and 110 died before completing the process after inquiring about EOLOA for themselves.
Where doctor-facilitated death could be headed shows in a story this week from the Netherlands, where the life-ending process has been legal for more than a decade and kills increasing numbers of people every year.
The latest Dutch story tells of a physically healthy 29-year-old woman who has scheduled herself to die from a legal lethal injection. She has no terminal illness; but suffers from substantial psychological problems. She lived in a hospital, then was in prison for setting her apartment building on fire. She wants to end her own life, and Dutch doctors authorized her death drugs for the day she chose.
It is unlikely that her story will be part of the hearing next week, but it shows how far physician-assisted suicide can go with continuing promotion by the end-life lobby.