Mary hung up the phone and frowned. “That can’t be right,” she said.
“What can’t be right?” her husband James asked. He put his newspaper down and gazed at her.
“Janice says she heard from Darla who heard from Laura that the End of Life Option Act has been overturned. If that’s true, we are going to need to change our Advance Healthcare Directives.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, the Option Act provided us with the means to legally end our life if we are terminally ill and have less than six months to live. If we no longer have that option, we need to make some adjustments to our instructions concerning end-of-life care. For example, if we become terminally ill, do we want to be moved to a state that does have a medical options law? Do we want to change the circumstances under which our Do Not Resuscitate Orders takes effect?” Mary gazed at him. “We need to make those decisions while we are of sound mind. Otherwise, our instructions won’t have any legal effect, and these are not decisions I want our kids to have to make.”
Jim grimaced. “I hate talking about these things, but I understand the reasoning behind the law. And you’re right, if I had a terminal illness I would want to be the one who decides how and when I die. If it gets to a point that extending my life makes no sense financially or in terms of quality of life, I want the ability to say, ‘No more.’ I’m not sure our kids would be able to make that call.”
Mary nodded. “I don’t want to be a burden on you or our children if I become terminally ill. I know what I want and I don’t want anyone else making those decisions for me.”
Jim nodded. “I agree with you there, but maybe we should make sure the law is actually gone before we do anything more. It doesn’t sound like you got your information from the most credible source. Let’s call our estates attorney and ask.”
California’s End of Life Option Act has had a turbulent year. In May, a Riverside County Superior Court judge ruled that the law had been improperly enacted and therefore, was unconstitutional and void. However, in June, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal granted a motion to stay that decision. The court gave opponents until July 2 to file objections, but none were submitted. That means the original law remains in effect until and unless a higher court rules otherwise.
According to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, “The Fourth District Appellate Court [reinstated] California’s End of Life Option Act while litigation is ongoing. This ruling provides some relief to California patients, their families, and doctors who have been living in uncertainty while facing difficult health decisions. Today’s court ruling is an important step to protect and defend the End of Life Option Act for our families across the state.”
The California End of Life Option Act permits residents to request a prescribed medication to end their life under the following conditions:
- The individual must be a verified California resident.
- The individual must be an adult (18 years and older).
- An attending physician must have provided a diagnosis of terminal illness.
- An attending physician must have given a prognosis of six months or less to live, and,
- The individual must be of sound mind and legally capable of making their own healthcare decisions.
The law also provides that the requesting individual must:
- Make the request voluntarily and in person.
- Make an informed decision that includes consideration of all other end-of-life options, as well as any other potential outcomes for taking the end-of-life medication.
- Be informed that they may choose to obtain the aid-in-dying prescription, but not take it, and,
- Self-administer and ingest the medication.
In addition, the California law provides specific procedures for verifying terminal illness, requesting medical assistance with dying, what qualifies as informed consent, and counseling. For example, the individual requesting assistance must make two oral requests to their physician for an aid-in-dying medication a minimum of 15 days apart, as well as a written request. The written request must be signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses. Only one of the witnesses may be related to the qualified individual by blood, marriage, registered domestic partnership, or adoption or be entitled to a portion of the individual’s estate upon death.
When all requirements are met, the individual will receive a prescription for aid-in-dying medication.
According to California officials, within the first six months of the passage of the End of Life Option Act, more than 110 terminally ill people opted to take prescribed medications to end their lives. Six other states, including Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington, D.C., have enacted similar medically-assisted death acts.
While the Fourth District Court of Appeal decision kept the voluntary end-of-life law intact, future challenges are expected. More information on the law and its status are available from your estate law attorney.