No more moving to Oregon like Brittany Maynard, now we can all choose our “end of life options” right here in California. The “Right to Die” legislation finally became law, making it possible for an “aid-in-dying” drug to be obtained by prescription when adults are terminally ill (less than 6 months to live), have capacity to request the lethal drug, and can self-administer it.
This is a huge step forward for most of my clients who have shared with me their own secret “exit strategies”. They don’t normally discuss their plans to end their own lives under terminal circumstances because to do so has been illegal for generations. Because I am their estate planning attorney of 16 years, they feel safe sharing their plans which are usually ALONE, IN SECRET and less than elegant. I just hope it actually works. Often, when clients actually implement their own plans, it’s a mess for the family they leave behind, both physically and emotionally. I’ll never forget when our town’s much loved mayor took his own life alone in his living room because he had been diagnosed with cancer.
This law is not “euthanasia” – the only assistance is the physician’s filling the prescription. Euthanasia allows the doctor to administer the lethal injection. Euthanasia is still only legally available in Columbia and the Netherlands at this time. However, if one were on a ship registered in one of those countries 24 nautical miles off shore, the law of the ship would apply…
To avoid abuse, the California resident must make 3 requests: two oral requests 15 days apart and one in writing with 2 witnesses. This is not available to someone who is suffering from impaired judgment due to a mental disorder.
The law requires the death certificate to read “terminal illness” as the cause of death, not suicide or homicide. This helps avoids the potential problem with life insurance that was purchased within 2 years of the death.
Much like “Right to Life” discussions, the arguments have been polarized with the personal freedom advocates (most of California) and the more religious conservatives arguing that “physician assisted suicide” is morally wrong. The freedom advocates simply avoid the spiritual conversation – ironically, because death has so much to offer in this arena. I’m mostly interested in the middle – both having the freedom WITH the responsibility of how it affects our spiritual development and our families. If we begin to treat our death process like we treat fast food and disposable everything, I fear we will lose some of the most precious moments we have with one another. Ask any hospice worker – the death process can be one of the most intimate, beautiful and transformational experiences of our entire lives. I believe this new law will allow us to intentionally create an even more beautiful transition. What if we planned our deaths with the same gusto as we plan our weddings?
I’m excited that we can finally talk about our exit strategies out in the open and end our lives in a more humane and dignified manner, with our loved ones around us. Now, Californians can plan ahead in their Advance Healthcare Directives about what their exit strategy might look like. What would you prefer?
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