Aid in dying laws, also referred to as physician-assisted dying or death with dignity laws, are very controversial in the United States as well as in other countries that have them. Those who support these laws typically do so because they believe that someone with a terminal illness should have the right to choose how and when they die. Those opposed to aid in dying laws often do so for ideological, moral, or religious reasons. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, if you are a California resident, you may wish to gain at least a basic understanding of how the California aid in dying law works. Toward that end, we offer a basic explanation of California’s aid in dying law.
Aid in Dying Law Basics
Aid in dying statutes allow mentally competent adults who have a terminal illness with a confirmed prognosis indicating that they have six months or less to live to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication to hasten their imminent death. For many people who choose to hasten their death in this manner, a primary benefit is the ability to die at home. Only 20 percent of people die at home nationwide; however, 90 percent of people using death with dignity laws are able to die at home. A handful of states have an aid in dying law in place as of 2019, including; California; Colorado; District of Columbia; Hawaii; New Jersey; Oregon; Vermont; and Washington. Although every state law is unique, they all include safeguards such as requiring two physicians to confirm the diagnosis as well as the patient’s mental competence. Waiting periods are also commonly required in aid in dying laws to ensure that the patient isn’t making a rash, spur of the moment, decision.
California’s Aid in Dying Law — End of Life Option Act
California enacted its aid in dying law, known as the End of Life Option Act, in 2015 and the law has been active since 2016. For a patient to make use of the law, the patient must make a request to his/her physician. It is important to understand that physicians are not required to participate in physician-assisted dying. Just as it is completely voluntary for a patient to choose to die using the aid in dying law, it is equally voluntary for a physician to participate in the process. A patient also has the absolute right to change his/her mind at any time after the request has been made.
Who Is Eligible for Aid in Dying in California?
To make use of California’s aid in dying law, you must be an adult California resident who is mentally competent and you must have a terminal illness that will lead to death in 6 months or less to be eligible to participate in the aid in dying law. In addition, you must be capable of taking the medication yourself. No one – not even a spouse – can assist you.
Two licensed physicians must verify your eligibility for the law, including your mental competency, diagnosis, and prognosis. In the event that a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment is suspected, you will be required to undergo an evaluation to determine if your request is being made voluntarily and will a sound mind.
Furthermore, you are required to make two oral requests in person, at least 15 days apart. A written request must be witnessed by two people, one of whom is not an heir to your estate. Finally, within 48 hours of taking the medications you must sign a final attestation form.
Aid in Dying and Your Estate Plan
Not everyone agrees with the ability to hasten your own death or even to withdraw life sustaining treatment; however, if you are one who does, it is important to make your beliefs and wishes clear in your estate plan. Executing an advance directive, for example, that clearly indicates your desires with regard to end of life medical treatment is a good idea.
If you find yourself facing a terminal illness, and you wish to request aid in dying, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected.