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Physician-Assisted Suicide Supporters Push for Expansion

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March 6, 2020

As they usually do soon after getting laws passed, supporters of physician-assisted suicide are looking for ways to make it easier for more people to end their life with the aid of a doctor.

The California Legislature's Select Committee on End of Life Health Care held an informational hearing on the "Implementation of the End of Life Option Act Policy" last week.  According to the law, the committee is to gather information on how the Act is working or not but has consistently looked at ways the law can be expanded instead.

Assembly Member Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), coauthor of the California End of Life Option Act (EOLOA), chairs the committee but only a few of the ten other members attended this year. Among the many suggestions from panelists, several themes emerged: 

  1. Interest in reducing the 15-day waiting period required in the law.  Oregon reduced the waiting period to 48 hours for those persons who are expected to live less than 15 days. . 
  2. Examine eligibility requirements that would allow those with neuromuscular conditions (ALS) and cognitive impairment (Alzheimer’s and dementia) to avail themselves of the lethal medication when they are no longer able to self-administer the drug.  In other words, some other person would have to administer the lethal injection.
  3. Make permissible “telehealth” consults with physicians.  Given the lack of physicians willing to help patients die from suicide, proponents are contemplating allowing physicians to evaluate the requests for physician-assisted suicide through electronic means.

California’s Bishops, in their statement following legalization of physician-assisted suicide in 2016, foresaw the move to expand the law:

What some mistakenly consider a newfound “freedom,” will inevitably become a duty for others. By allowing doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to their patients, California is embarking on a dangerous course. This new law will place the disabled, the elderly and other vulnerable people at risk for abuse and mistreatment and will undermine the healing professions’ venerable commitment to “first do no harm.”

The California Department of Public Health’s report on 2019 doctor-assisted suicides will be available this summer but last year’s report indicated that more than 1,100 people had requested lethal prescriptions between June 2016, when the law became effective, and the end of 2018.  Just over 800 died from ingesting the medication.