California End of Life Option Act
(Medical Aid in Dying)
When the End of Life Option Act (EOLOA) was signed by California Governor Jerry Brown on October 5, 2015 and went into effect on June 9, 2016, it laid a solid foundation for all Californians to be supported in their end of life wishes. It represents a major step forward in the nationwide effort to change state laws to better reflect humane values. The new law was patterned after the country’s first groundbreaking law, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act in effect since 1997 and Washington State’s Death with Dignity Act in effect since 2009. With the new law, California became the 7th, and the largest state in the country to allow licensed physicians to legally prescribe a lethal dose of medication to their decisionally capable, terminally ill adult patients requesting Medical Aid in Dying (MAID).
Eligibility Requirements to Access the Law:
- Must be 18 years or older.
- Must be of sound mind and exhibit appropriate decision-making capabilities to the attending physician.
- Must be able to self-ingest the medication either orally or by pushing through an NG tube.
- Must be diagnosed with a terminal disease, with a life expectancy of six months or less, by two physicians.
Finding a Physician:
First, ask your physician
The first thing to do is to ask your physician now, at the beginning of your search and possibly while you are still well, if he or she would support you if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness and had 6 or fewer months to live. Be very specific to say you’d like to know if they are willing to provide you with a life-ending prescription, using California’s medical aid in dying law (MAID), in order that you might have a peaceful death and control the timing of your death or when you can no longer tolerate suffering. Hopefully, your physician will say yes, or if they can’t, perhaps refer you to another physician who will. If your physician says, “No. Absolutely not.” or something equally final, you have the option to change physicians. Whichever way it goes, be sure to ask that your request be documented in the medical records and that you be referred to another physician or social worker who may help.
You have options
You also could consider exploring the doctor’s rationale with her/him, and possibly change their mind. Ask your doctor: Why? Why after all these years of testing and treatment, they would not support you in your time of greatest suffering? If they sound at all unsure, or ambivalent, you have an educational opportunity and can provide them with our phone number. We can connect them with a physician with many years of experience of working with patients in similar situations.
If your disease process allows you time to wait a few weeks, you could ask your physician again and see if there is any movement in their response to the question of providing medical aid-in-dying.
If you have already been diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness and you have no further treatment options, or they are no longer effective, and you have been told you have 6 months or less to live, ask the physician with whom you have the best relationship if he/she will prescribe life-ending medical aid-in-dying for you in order that you may have a peaceful death when you have had enough suffering.
Words you could consider using when talking with your physician are the following: “California’s End of Life Option Act gives you the legal right to prescribe medication for me so I may control the time and place of my death – and that is what I want. How do I go about making this happen if you won’t do this for me?” A growing number of hospices now have physicians on staff who will examine you in your home and, if you qualify, prescribe the medication for medical aid-in-dying. We can help you find a hospice that participates in MAID.