Protecting yourself against state’s new assisted-suicide law
November 1st, 2016
By Vicki Evans
In what will go down as a dark day in California history, an assisted-suicide law with minimal safeguards took effect June 9.
The End of Life Option Act states that a doctor, or anyone else, can assist in a suicide without being prosecuted for a crime. One can avail himself of assisted suicide if he has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and there is a reasonable prognosis of death within six months. He must be judged by two doctors as having mental capacity to make medical decisions. He then makes two oral requests and one witnessed written request to a doctor, who may then write him a lethal prescription.
The new law is implemented by going to California’s Department of Public Health website and under “Hot Topics” clicking on “End of Life Option Act.” There you will find the check-the-box forms needed.
The patient completes a “Request for An Aid-In-Dying Drug to End my Life in a Humane and Dignified Manner” witnessed by two individuals. The “Attending Physician Checklist & Compliance Form” is a three-page form consisting of a series of boxes the doctor checks off to document eligibility for assisted suicide. On the “Consulting Physician Compliance Form” a second physician checks off similar boxes. Nothing remains but the act of securing the lethal drug and ingesting it.
It takes little imagination to envision how this law puts the vulnerable at risk. Victims of elder abuse are vulnerable to persuasion. Family members or others who stand to inherit could exert subtle pressure by suggesting or encouraging suicide. A nursing home could have motives for moving the patient along. Consider these pitfalls.
The definition of “terminal” only requires the doctor to predict the patient’s death within six months. There is no requirement that he consider the impact of drugs or medical treatments in terms of survival. The fact is, many conditions become terminal if medications or routine treatments are discontinued. A diabetic will die within six months without insulin.
There is no requirement that the two witnesses attesting to the patient’s request know him personally, as long as proof of identity is provided. One witness is allowed to be a relative or someone who stands to inherit. One witness may be the operator or employee of a healthcare facility where the patient resides. Notification of next-of-kin is not required.
Neither the attending physician nor the consulting physician must be your regular doctor. If your doctor believes you do not have mental capacity or are being pressured, there is no prohibition against “doctor shopping” until a doctor is found who will declare you capable of choosing assisted suicide.
Investigation into violations of the law is prevented by a provision stating that information gleaned from the physician’s assisted-suicide reporting form is not discoverable or compelled to be produced in any civil, criminal or administrative proceeding. This effectively prohibits any inquiry into possible foul play.
Before writing a prescription for death, a doctor must discuss “feasible alternatives” or treatments. But this does not mean the patient has the ability or insurance coverage to access them.
The law does not require the patient to be in the presence of a doctor when the lethal drugs are taken. It only addresses activities up until the drugs are procured. Nothing ensures that one is competent at the time the drugs are taken or that they are knowingly or willingly taken.
So how can you protect yourself? First, call this law what it is: assisted suicide. Language in the law provides that “death resulting from an aid-in-dying drug is not suicide.” Don’t fall for this abuse of the English language.
Be sure your doctor knows your wishes vis-à-vis assisted suicide. If he approves of his patients ending their lives, it may be time for a new doctor.
Beware of check-the-box forms becoming effective upon your signature and/or your doctor’s. This includes these “End of Life Option” forms as well as POLST, “Physician Orders for Life-Saving Treatment.” POLST should only be completed with reference to actual medical conditions. Many healthcare providers try to force the use of POLST. Say no unless circumstances warrant it.
Complete an Advanced Health Care Directive to appoint a trusted surrogate who knows your values and wishes. This will be the person making medical decisions for you if you cannot so it’s vital to appoint someone you trust with your life.
Evans is respect life coordinator for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
“Hope for the Holiday,” a seminar on grief, will be held Nov. 19, 2-4 p.m., at St. Mary’s Cathedral Event Center, St. Francis Hall (lower level), 1111 Gough St. at Geary Boulevard, San Francisco. Presenters Deacon Christoph Sandoval and Mercy Sister Elaine Stahl will discuss topics including advance directives, navigating grief for the holidays and “welcoming heaven on the last day of our lives.” The presentation is open to the public and free of charge. Call (415) 567-2020, ext. 218. Visit www.stmarycathedralsf.org.
From November 3, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.