We’d like to review some points about California’s right-to-die law, so you may better understand its application. A person must be at least 18 years of age. A resident of California must have received a diagnosis of an illness that is fatal within six months, i.e., the illness is terminal and irreversible. We have had many clients take advantage of this law and make preplanned funeral arrangements for themselves.
California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, signed The End of Life Option Act (California Right to Die Law) into effect on October 5, 2015. Recent efforts by many groups, including Death With Dignity, have finally led to the bill’s approval.
The bill’s signing made California the sixth “Right to Die” state. Currently, the states with such legislation are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana (through a court ruling), and New Jersey.
Right to Die Had Many Objections Initially
The bill met numerous challenges along the road. Senate Republicans initially opposed the bill because they believed it diminished the value of life and gave sick people an excuse to give up.
The Catholic Church, disability rights groups, and other organizations objected to it being passed, including Californians Against Assisted Suicide. The Hemlock Society’s replacement, Compassion & Choices, was one of the influential organizations backing the legislation. They are a wealth of information regarding this process.
One of the topics that caused much argument was the use of the term assisted suicide. That is one of the reasons the terms aid in dying, end of life, right to die, and death with dignity were preferred. Just using the term suicide caused votes against the legislation.
There are Many Steps in the Process
ABC News in Los Angeles tells the story of patients who have long fought for their right to die but are finding out that, according to the new law, many steps must be followed. In addition, not all doctors are required to participate, nor are all religious-based systems.
In addition to having only six months of life remaining, the person must be able to take the medication at home without help. There must be no sign of mental disease as diagnosed by the patient’s doctor.
When my time comes, I want the option of an assisted death
Medication Used for Patients
Patients are typically given a lethal dose of barbiturates under right-to-die laws, such as those in California and other states. These medications are part of a class that slows the central nervous system, and they can quiet you down, put you to sleep, or even kill you at greater doses.
Secobarbital (marketed under the name Seconal) is an often given medication, albeit the precise medicine can vary. A high dose of the short-acting barbiturate secobarbital can cause respiratory depression, coma, and death.
In tablets or capsules, healthcare practitioners often administer the drug to the patient, who can subsequently obtain it from a drugstore. The patient must adhere to the directions provided by their healthcare practitioner to ensure a painless and controlled death, as the prescribed dosage is intended to be lethal.
Conclusion – Right to Die
With so many complexities, the advocacy group Compassion and Choices, mentioned above, is helping health providers and the public find resources.
“The main thing that we’re hearing from doctors is just a sense of anxiety around never doing this before, as with any new medical procedure,” said Matt Whittaker of the group.
Pray that you never need to make this kind of decision yourself. Everyone, however, will pass from this life eventually, so it is always good to have prearranged funeral plans in place. If there is one thing that people working in the funeral business learn is that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
For information on a variety of questions regarding funeral issues, see our Question and Answer page.