California shortens wait for terminally ill patients for assisted dying

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SACRAMENTO – Since California legalized assisted death more than five years ago, thousands of potentially terminally ill patients seeking deadly drugs have died before they were granted a prescription that would have allowed them to terminate to their day on their own terms.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday signed legislation to reduce that barrier, shortening a mandatory waiting period for life-ending drugs during which advocates say many patients become too sick to continue the process.

SB380 by State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, requires patients to wait only 48 hours, rather than 15 days, between separate requests for the assisted death drug. It also extends the law, which was due to expire in 2026, by an additional five years.

Newsom signed the bill without comment.

State lawmakers narrowly approved assisted death in 2015, with tough rules meant to allay concerns – raised by Catholic groups and other religious organizations, as well as disability advocates and some lawmakers – that vulnerable patients could be forced to end their days prematurely or change their minds after first seeking a lethal prescription.

Currently, California adults seeking the deadly drug must confirm with two doctors that they have less than six months to live and are mentally capable of making their own medical decisions. They must make two oral requests, spaced at least 15 days apart, and submit a written request, signed and dated by two witnesses, to the doctor who will write them a prescription. Then, they must complete a final certificate, 48 hours before ingesting the drug, that they are doing so voluntarily.

But assisted death advocates say there have been no documented cases of abuse with the law, while the lengthy process has likely prevented many qualified patients from accessing it.

A hospital study found that a third of patients who inquired about assisted death died before completing the process or became too ill to continue. Less than a quarter of patients eventually received the lethal prescription.

Only 2,858 state residents obtained a prescription and 1,816 died ingesting the drug between June 2016 and the end of last year, according to state data. This means that there could be thousands of others who have unsuccessfully pursued assisted dying.

The Eggman Bill, which comes into force in 2022, also removes the final attestation for patients before they take the deadly drug and requires doctors who refuse to participate in assisted dying law, which is optional, to document a patient’s request and transfer their medical record.

Despite continued opposition from disability rights and Catholic groups, who feared the high cost of medical care might cause some patients to choose death instead, the bill was passed by the Legislature on the month. last with few objections – a reflection of how assisted death in California has since established itself as a widely accepted end-of-life option.

Alexei Koseff is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @akoseff



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