By: Laura Petrillo, @lpetrillz
The End of Life Option Act has been in effect in California for almost three months. How is it going so far?
In the news, there have been a few publicized cases. First, the death of a young woman with ALS in Ojai, California fit perfectly with the romanticized image of an intimate goodbye among friends and family, followed by the sip of a potion and a long, gentle sleep. The most common sentiment I heard from people was “You have to admit that was lovely,” yet the media coverage led me to wonder whether the rules of reporting on suicide (avoiding sensationalism to deter copycats) apply here— apparently not.
Other stories were less rosy. Another woman with ALS in southern California struggled to find anyone to write a prescription, and when she finally obtained the medication, her death was a frenzy that involved an urgent ferry from the pharmacy via Uber and a rushed crushing of pills in a race against her symptoms. The woman’s niece wrote, “It didn't exactly match the serene scenario I'd pictured—with appropriate music, Bible readings, and meaningful conversation… My aunt was surrounded with love, but the day was fraught and frightening.”
Healthcare systems around the state that have chosen to participate in the law are having varied experiences. The Compassion and Choices director Matt Whitaker praised California’s response so far, saying, “California is ahead of the pace, in terms of access. Many of the struggles Oregon had have not materialized, because health systems have stepped up to make sure their physicians are educated and there are structures in place for patients.” He may have been talking about Kaiser Permanente, which did extensive training in advance of the law in order to operate like a well-oiled machine from day one. Kaiser spokeswoman Amy Thoma said, “With every person who wishes to exercise their right, we will have a patient coordinator to guide the patient through every step.”
Many healthcare systems are still scrambling to create policies, though, and in some cases, dealing with dissent among the ranks. Physicians at Huntington Hospital, in Pasadena, decided “behind closed doors” to opt out of the law at first, but their decision was overruled by the hospital board, who decided to allow physician aid in dying in the hospital. Physicians will still have the right to opt out individually, as guaranteed by the law.
The other big news item is that a group of physicians and the American Academy of Medical Ethics has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law. A Riverside County judged ruled against an injunction to suspend the law until the case was decided, but allowed the case to move forward.
So Geripal readers in California, I’m curious. How’s it going where you practice? Please feel free to use the anonymous feature on the comments section to sound off!