By Chris Haring

A report from the California Dept. of Health shows the positive impacts of a 2021 amendment shortening the waiting period for end-of-life medication

In recent years, the aid-in-dying movement has gained significant momentum as more states have implemented laws to provide terminally ill individuals with the option to choose Death with Dignity.

Some states, including California, are now amending existing aid-in-dying laws to increase patient access and improve end-of-life options. As a recent Public News Services (PNS) piece showed, we are beginning to see the positive impacts of such changes through data.

Since it came into effect in June 2016, the state’s landmark End of Life Option Act contained a waiting period provision: patients with terminal illnesses were required to officially make two oral requests for life-ending medication 15 days apart. 

However, a Kaiser Permanente Southern California study published in 2018 found that one in five patients died during the waiting period. Additionally, City of Hope National Medical Center’s Dr. Chandana Banerjee noted for PNS that the 15-day waiting period can complicate a patient’s ability to partake in MAID if they lose consciousness or the ability to swallow during this time, making them ineligible. 

In an effort to mitigate this unnecessary and prolonged suffering, California lawmakers passed an amendment in 2021 shortening that waiting period to 48 hours. A new report from the CA Department of Public Health (CDPH) reveals its remarkable impact: a 47% increase (863 to 1270) in prescriptions for the medication from 2021 to 2022. The data underscores the urgency of timely access to physician-assisted dying and highlights the consequences of prolonged delays.

PNS’s story also notes that while some healthcare systems and hospices may cite religious objections when not offering comprehensive end-of-life care options, advocates are pushing for providers’ adherence to medical aid-in-dying laws, such as posting their policies on their websites.

Ultimately, it is imperative that lawmakers and healthcare professionals empower patients to take control of their own end-of-life journey. As the CDPH findings demonstrate, the impact of shortening waiting periods is a powerful testament to the potential of policy changes to alleviate suffering and provide individuals with the peace they deserve in their final moments.

Read the full article below:

Changes to CA’s Medical Aid-in-Dying Law Spur 47% Jump in Use

Suzanne Potter, Producer
Published: Monday, August 14, 2023 

A law shortening the waiting period for medical aid in dying has led to a 47% jump in prescriptions for the medication – according to a new report from the California Department of Public Health.

In 2021, lawmakers amended the End of Life Option Act to cut the mandatory waiting period between the two required oral requests for the medication from 15 days down to 48 hours.

Samantha Trad, national director of advocacy with the group Compassion & Choices, said the change provided relief to hundreds more patients.

“In 2021, 863 prescriptions were written,” said Trad. “Last year, with the new changes in effect, 1,270 prescriptions were written.”

The data also showed that almost 4 out of 5 terminally ill patients waited less than 15 days between the two verbal requests.

A 2018 study from Kaiser showed that 21% of patients who requested to use the End of Life Option act died during the 15-day waiting period.

Dr. Chandana Banerjee – associate professor of hospice & palliative care and dean of graduate medical education with the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte – noted that some terminally ill patients deteriorate quickly, which can make the 15-day waiting period untenable.

“In those 15 days, they can lose consciousness, they can lose the ability to swallow,” said Banerjee. “And at that point, they don’t become eligible anymore to participate in the End of Life Option Act because you have to have the ability to ingest on your own.”

Some hospitals do not offer the full range of end-of-life care options, citing religious objections.

Advocates are calling on health-care systems and hospices to follow the law and post their medical aid-in-dying policies on their websites.

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