Medical Aid in Dying Becomes Legal in California Today

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Starting today, medical aid in dying, also known as assisted suicide, becomes legal in California. Mentally competent, terminally ill patients are able to seek a prescription from their doctor that allows them to die peacefully in their sleep.

Elizabeth Wallner, a single mom from Sacramento with stage four colon cancer, said just having the prescription is a relief, whether she ends up using it or not.

“Death itself doesn’t really scare me,” she said. “What scares me the most is dying slowly and painfully and traumatizing my beloved son, Nathaniel, my parents and siblings and the other people in my life, whom I love.”

End-of-life advocates expect 1,500 Californians to ask their doctor for the prescription right away and another 34,000 patients a year to inquire about the process.

Matt Whitaker, California state director, of the nonprofit group Compassion and Choices, said patients in California no longer have to move to another state to pursue this option.

“Feel empowered to begin these conversations with your physician now,” he said. “Feel empowered to talk about your wishes around your end-of-life process. Take control of your care.”

The majority of non-religiously affiliated hospitals are allowing their physicians to participate, including systems run by local counties, Kaiser, Sutter, and the University of California.

Dr. Catherine Sonquist MD, MPH, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine and Family Medicine and Medical Director of Stanford Health Care-Los Altos said physicians need to assess their patients’ mental health, prior treatment, and terminal diagnosis.

“Helping guide our patients through their terminal illness and end-of-life care must be done with caring and skill,” she said.

California becomes the fourth state to authorize medical aid in dying, after Oregon, Washington Montana and Vermont.

More information can be found online here.