In California, we are very fortunate to have won the right to medical aid in dying (MAiD). With the California End of Life Option Act (ELOA) in effect since June 2016, MAiD has been legal and available for more than seven years. The law provides the ability of a physician to write a prescription for life-ending medication for a terminally ill patient, and for that patient to self-ingest the medication. Since California’s law was passed by a legislative vote, and not by a public referendum on the ballot, surprisingly few people in a state as large as ours know about this option.
Additionally, because we live in a time of widespread misinformation and disinformation, EOLCCA receives a lot of inquiries from people who believe many of the myths circulating about medical aid in dying.
The purpose of this article is to dispel those myths and provide you with the facts, according to the ELOA.
Myth #1: It is complicated to access MAiD.
FACT: It is not complicated once you have the required two physicians to work with (an attending physician and a consulting physician). Often the attending physician has a consulting physician already at hand. The law requires oral and written requests of two physicians who agree that you are eligible (meaning life expectancy of six months or less), just like the eligibility requirements for hospice. One of the services we provide to people who reach out to us is helping them talk with their own physician about prescribing and, if the physician will not participate as allowed by the law, we help them find a new physician who will prescribe.
Myth #2: MAiD requires too much paperwork.
FACT: The requesting patient only needs to complete a one page form. The REQUEST FOR AN AID-IN-DYING DRUG TO END MY LIFE IN A HUMANE AND DIGNIFIED MANNER form can be found on our website.
Myth #3: You must open and mix 100 capsules of medication.
FACT: This used to be the case, but now the medication arrives at the home in the form of a powder in a small bottle, dispensed from a compounding pharmacy. It consists of a combination of medications to which two ounces of water or apple juice are added, just prior to taking. Once mixed, it becomes a milk-like liquid. After consuming all the medication within two minutes, the patient generally falls asleep within five minutes and goes into a deeper and deeper sleep, and dies peacefully, the way most individuals say they wish to die. If the patient cannot swallow, there are other ways to self-ingest the medication according to the law. A knowledgeable physician can discuss these options.
Myth #4: A medical professional (MD, RN) must be present when the MAiD medication is taken.
FACT: A person may take their medication with anyone present whom they wish. Anyone, including you, may mix the medication. But we feel that no one should die alone. We provide experienced, highly trained volunteers who are available to be with clients and their families to offer support, if requested.
Myth #5: You must have resided in California for at least six months in order to access MAiD.
FACT: The ELOA says nothing about the length of the residency requirement. Any place of residence in California, whether on your own or with family/friends, is sufficient to seek medical care in the state.
Myth #6: MAiD is euthanasia.
FACT: Euthanasia involves the administration of lethal medication to an individual by a medical professional. MAiD laws in the US require the individual to self-ingest, by swallowing or pushing a plunger by themselves into their digestive system.
Myth #7: MAiD is suicide.
FACT: MAiD allows an individual who would otherwise wish to continue living but cannot due to a terminal diagnosis without any chance of recovery, to plan for the day, time, and place when they may die peacefully. Suicide is committed by someone who is usually not dying and often suffering from mental illness. The ELOA states MAiD is not suicide in four separate places in the law.
Myth #8: Life insurance will not pay out for someone who uses MAiD.
FACT: By law, life insurance, wills, and contracts are unaffected by someone who chooses MAiD. The death certificate states the cause of death as the underlying disease (cancer, heart failure, COPD, etc.), never MAiD or suicide.
Myth #9: If I go through the process and receive my MAiD prescription, I must take it.
FACT: You can always change your mind, even on the planned day. You are in control. One-third of Americans in states with medical aid in dying who obtain the MAiD prescription never take it because they can relax significantly, knowing they have the medication if they ever need it.
Please feel free to call or email us anytime with questions or concerns at 760-636-8009 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our volunteers are available to help you and we do not charge for our services.
Lynne Calkins is a founding director and current board member of End of Life Choices California in addition to serving as an active client volunteer. She developed EOLCCA’s client services volunteer program, launched EOLCCA’s MAiD Bereavement Group, and is a frequent speaker to a wide variety of audiences on end-of-life options. She campaigned vigorously for the passage of California’s End of Life Option Act in 2015 and is eternally grateful for the legacy of Brittany Maynard that helped make this law a reality for all Californians. She is passionate about the individual’s right to choose a peaceful death at the end of life.
EOLCCA supports a strong team of experienced volunteers throughout the state, ready to help anyone, anywhere in California free of charge with information and support regarding all end-of-life planning and choices, including aid in dying through the California End of Life Option Act. You can find comprehensive information on our user-friendly website. EOLCCA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and we rely on donations from idividuals and foundations. To support our work, or request an educational presentation, please visit ways to help. Thank you!