There are a lot of misconceptions around what it means for a terminally ill person to end their life.
Most people jump immediately to euthanasia, which is illegal in all 50 states, and involves a physician assisting a person in ending their life. Assisted suicide is one term for what advocates are now calling “aid in dying,” but the word “suicide” tends to make people think of a rash or impulsive decision.
Five states, including a newly-enacted law in California, give patients who are terminally ill (meaning they have six months or less to live) the choice to end their lives on their terms.
In the year since California’s End of Life Option Act has been an available option, 111 people have chosen to utilize it. Most were terminally ill cancer patients, and 83 percent were in hospice care.
Patients must be mentally sound, have less than six months to live, and make two verbal and one written request to their doctor over a period of time. They also must be able to administer the medication themselves without the help of anyone else, including family.
“The person is dying. The people we’ve met with — they want to live,” said state Senator Bill Monning, who sponsored the bill. “They’re not choosing death. That decision has been made unfortunately because of an uncontrolled disease, a terminal cancer. … What this does is allows them to gain autonomy, self-determination in what will be the path of that certain death.”
The End of Life Option Act specifies that health insurance companies cannot influence a patient’s choices by denying long and expensive treatment in favor of aid in dying. It also ensures death certificates list the patient’s terminal disease, not suicide or the End of Life Option Act, as the cause of death.
Brittany Maynard lived in California before the law was enacted and moved to Oregon so she could have access to aid in dying services after she tragically found out she had just months to live at 29 years old.
Maynard chose to end her life with medication in Oregon after seizures threatened to render her unable to make that choice. Her parents and surviving husband are now advocates for aid in dying laws and wish that Maynard had been able to make that choice at home in California at the time.
“The state’s data show that even during the early months of the law’s implementation, the law was working well and terminally ill Californians were able to take comfort in knowing that they had this option to peacefully end intolerable suffering,” Compassion & Choices California State Director Matt Whitaker said in a statement.