Thursday, May 12, 2016

A better way to die? California’s end-of-life law launches June 9

Elizabeth Wallner vividly remembers the moment when she knew there had to be a better way to die.

Diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, Wallner was in the midst of brutal chemotherapy that made her violently sick to her stomach. As she was retching into the toilet, her son, then 16, sat on the bathroom floor, helpless to ease her pain.

“I just remember the look of absolute anguish on his face,” recalled Wallner, a single mom. “I knew then that I would never, ever put him through that again. That moment is seared into my mind.”

When her time comes, Wallner, a 52-year-old education consultant who also cares for her aging parents, wants to spare her family any more agonizing memories and instead take a lethal prescription, prescribed by her doctor.

Starting June 9, that option will be available for the first time in California.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last October after years of contentious battles over end-of-life options, marks a new era for California patients and physicians. Under a strict set of protocols, terminally ill patients can request a prescription drug to end their lives early, similar to existing practices in Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

For patients such as Wallner, California’s aid-in-dying prescription provides “a sense of peace that I will have a small measure of control in how my life ends.”

For physicians, it’s uncharted territory, applauded by some, unwanted by others. Ahead of next month’s implementation, health care providers are scrambling to train and advise physicians, pharmacists and others in how to handle patient requests.

There’s no telling how many Californians might opt for a lethal prescription. It could be in the hundreds.

“We can’t say with any kind of certainty what the number is going to be, but I don’t think it would be outrageous to say there could be 1,000 people in California who would be getting a prescription in the next year,” said Matt Whitaker, California director of Compassion & Choices, a Denver-based nonprofit that advocates for end-of-life planning, including hospice and palliative care.

Whitaker, who also works with Oregon’s 18-year-old program, said his office has been getting numerous calls from California patients and health care providers with questions about how to implement the new law.

“There are going to be tens of thousands of conversations going around California, as people are talking with their doctors about this new option,” he said.

In all cases, the end-of-life option is voluntary for doctors and individuals. (Continue Reading)
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A better way to die? California’s end-of-life law launches June 9

1 comment:

Tonya said...

I have great empathy for those who are suffering but the problem is like everything else, it will be abused.