Author – Kristen Terranova
Since 2016 California has allowed terminally ill adult residents to request medication from a physician that will end their life. In 2022 California’s End of Life Option Act was revised, making significant changes that included a reduction in the required waiting period between a patient’s oral requests from 15 days to 48 hours. The law states that people who choose to end their lives this way, and who carefully follow the steps as outlined by the legislature, will not be considered to have committed suicide. Rather, they will be considered to have died of the underlying terminal illness.
How the Law Works:
The End of Life Option Act (EoLOA) permits terminally ill adult patients to be prescribed an aid-in-dying (AID) medication if certain conditions are met. To employ this option, a patient must have capacity to make medical decisions, a diagnosis of a terminal illness with a prognosis of 6 months or less, and must be able to self-administer the life-ending drugs.
The process is as follows:
- Two oral requests must be made to the attending physician at least 48 hours apart
- One witnessed written request form must be provided to attending physician.
- A second consulting physician must examine the patient and agree with the attending physician on the diagnosis, prognosis, and capacity for informed decision-making and document his/her assessment.
- If either physician thinks the patient’s ability to make medical decisions could be impaired, the patient must also see a mental health specialist.
- The law directs physicians to discuss a number of specific topics with the patient, including effects of the drug and alternatives to EoLOA.
- Proper documentation is required before the AID drug can be prescribed.
Including EoLOA in Your Estate Plan:
A complete estate plan should always include an Advance Health Care Directive (“AHCD”) naming someone who can make medical decisions for you (“Agent”) if you lose the capacity to do so yourself. Your AHCD can include instructions on your preferences for treatment or withholding care, organ donation and disposition of your remains. If you think you might one day want to use the End of Life Option, this should be expressly stated in your AHCD so your Agent knows and can assist with arrangements. It is important to discuss the wishes in your AHCD with your planned Agent in advance, so you can choose an individual who will be willing to support you in your choices.