The End of Life Option Act
By Joseph Ferrucci
December 15, 2015
AB 15 is California’s so-called “right to die” law. It allows terminally ill patients the means to obtain and self-administer a drug that will aid in dying. Patients must meet strict requirements to qualify for an aid-in-dying drug. Notably, a patient cannot delegate the power to request the drug to an agent, and a patient cannot plan the request in advance. For more information about AB 15, in case you ever find yourself facing a life-threatening illness, consult with your doctor or a qualified attorney.
The End of Life Option Act, AB 15, gives qualifying individuals the means to end their lives by obtaining and voluntarily ingesting medically prescribed drugs that will aid in dying. In order to qualify for a prescription, the individual must be at least 18 years old, a resident of California, have the capacity to make medical decisions, and have the physical and mental ability to self-administer the drug. The individual must have a terminal disease that has been confirmed to result in death within 6 months. Age or disability alone are not enough.
If a terminally ill patient wants a prescription for an aid-in-dying drug, the patient must ask his or her attending physician. The patient must make two oral requests, at least 15 days apart, and must submit a third request in writing. The written request must be in the form prescribed by the Health and Safety Code. The attending physician must:
- Determine that the patient has mental capacity, has a terminal illness, and has met all the other requirements of the Act, and these determinations must be confirmed by a second “consulting” physician.
- Conclude that the patient is making an informed decision and is not subject to coercion or undue influence.
- Inform the patient that he or she may withdraw or rescind the request for the aid-in-dying drug at any time and in any manner and is not required to take the drug after it has been prescribed.
- Provide the patient with a “final attestation form,” with the instruction that the patient must fill out and sign the form within 48 hours before self-administering the drug.
Does the Act affect your Advance Health Care Directive?
The Act does not alter or otherwise affect your Advance Health Care Directive. In your Advance Health Care Directive, you may have given your Health Care Agent the authority to terminate life support and other life-sustaining treatment on your behalf, e.g., in the event of a terminal illness or irreversible coma. This authority is sometimes referred to as a “living will.” The Act does not change or limit the living will.
A terminally ill patient must request the aid-in-dying drug in person and may make the request only if death is anticipated within 6 months. The request cannot be made through a power of attorney, an advance health care directive, a conservator, health care agent, surrogate, or any other legally recognized health care decision maker. In other words, the Act does not allow advance planning. Your Health Care Agent under your Advance Health Care Directive does not have, and cannot be given, the authority to request a prescription for an aid-in-dying drug for you. Therefore, there is no need to change or update your Advance Health Care Directive on account of the Act.
What steps should you take?
If you ever face a life-threatening illness and want to consider exercising your rights under the End of Life Option Act, contact your attending physician for an appointment to discuss yours options. Please note that the Act gives health care providers and physicians the choice to opt out. If your attending physician does not participate in the Act, request a referral to another physician who can provide a consultation.
Also, note that the Act does not help patients with long-term degenerative neurological diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. At the time of diagnosis, a typical dementia patient would be expected to live more than 6 months, but the patient typically would not have legal capacity or the ability to self-administer an aid-in-dying drug within the last 6 months of life. And as noted above, a dementia patient cannot authorize another person to make the request for the aid-in-dying drug on his or her behalf.
AB 15 will take effect 90 days after the conclusion of the State Legislature’s special session on health care financing, which is not anticipated until late 2016. It will expire on January 1, 2026, unless the State Legislature renews the law beforehand.
DISCLAIMER: This article contains general information about legal topics. It is not, and is not intended to be, legal advice. Your use of information in this article does not make Joseph Ferrucci, Attorney at Law P.C., or any of its attorneys, your attorney and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Every case must be analyzed independently, based on the specific and unique facts of the case. If you have questions about your particular case, consult with a licensed, qualified attorney. This article is intended for personal use only, and not for publication or distribution.
© 2016 Joseph Ferrucci, Attorney at Law P.C.