Amid Controversy, End of Life Options Act Becomes Law

Amid Controversy, End of Life Options Act Becomes Law

End-of-life documents, an important part of California Document Preparers’ services, inevitably lead to discussions about other end-of-life issues—including the controversial issue of a patient’s desire to end his or her own life. The California Senate passed the End of Life Options Act earlier in the summer, yet it was tabled in July. But later, in a special session, the Legislature passed the bill; the final remaining step was for Governor Jerry Brown to sign the controversial initiative.

Not an easy decision for Brown, a former Jesuit seminary student

Deciding on the legality and humanity of this legislation was not an easy matter for Brown. Both an attorney and a former seminary student with deep roots in the Catholic Church, Brown admitted struggling with his decision, and he closely considered arguments on both sides of the controversial measure.

In the end, it may be Brown’s age that finally influenced his decision

At 77, Brown, like many of us, has begun to recognize his own mortality, and the consequences of devastating illness and debilitating conditions have become more imminent. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain; I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill.” Brown further reasons that, whether or not his sense of morality would allow him to avail himself of this measure if he were dying and in great discomfort or pain, it’s not up to him to deny this choice to others.

There is still significant resistance to this law

It’s important to note that opponents of this legislation refer to it as the Physician-Assisted Suicide Law, while its supporters reference it by the title of the legislation, the End of Life Options Act.

  • Religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, and advocates for people with disabilities see the potential for abuse by unscrupulous caregivers or relatives pressuring vulnerable patients to take their own lives.
  • Opponents also believe the bill would invite insurance companies to take advantage of patients from lower-income families by offering to pay for the cost of life-ending drugs, but not for the expensive treatments that could save lives.
  • Opponents fear that this option may become the least expensive treatment; in a healthcare system that’s often stretched to the limits, there is, indeed, a frightening potential for abuse by those most unable to help themselves.

Supporters, on the other hand, are relieved that people who are terminally ill have a choice. They can choose when the time is right to die peacefully with dignity and in greater comfort.

The new law becomes effective Jan. 1, 2016

  • The law makes it a felony to pressure anyone into requesting or taking assisted-suicide drugs.
  • The law will expire after ten years unless extended, a compromise with lawmakers who were worried about unintended consequences such as the targeting of the poor, elderly and disabled.
  • The bill allows a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication under certain narrow circumstances.
  • Patients receiving the prescription must be mentally competent.
  • Two California doctors must agree that the patient has no more than 6 months to live.
  • It must be the patient’s choice to take the drugs, and patients must affirm their intention to do so 48 hours in advance—and so on their own.

If creating a Living Trust is on your to-do list, we encourage you to come in to one of our California Document Preparers offices to get started. Our comprehensive Trust package includes a Power of Attorney and Advance Healthcare Directive. We also provide a section for listing the contact information for healthcare providers, insurance agents and other people who provide critical services.