Before January 1, 2016, terminally ill patients in California needed to move to a state like Oregon to obtain a prescription to end their suffering and die with dignity. Now, an historic new California law, the End of Life Option Act, allows physicians to provide life-ending prescriptions, referred to as “aid-in-dying drugs,” to certain patients diagnosed with a terminal illness.
The Act has strict requirements and guidelines. The patient must be at least 18 and have an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, result in death within six months. The patient also must be able to understand the nature and consequences of the health care decision — its significant benefits, risks, and alternatives — and must be able to make and communicate an informed decision to health care providers.
The Act also requires specific information to be documented in the patient’s medical record, including, among other things, all oral and written requests for an aid-in-dying drug. The Act requires that the patient submit two oral requests, at least 15 days apart, along with a written request with witnesses, to the attending physician.
Those fearing that the Act would enable insurance companies to push the end-of-life option will be relieved. The Act prohibits an insurance carrier from communicating to a patient about the availability of an aid-in-dying drug unless the patient or the attending physician requests the information; the insurance carrier cannot communicate the denial of treatment or information as to the availability of aid-in-dying drug coverage.  
Treating physicians have strict reporting requirements, which include providing specified forms and information to the State Department of Public Health after writing a prescription for an aid-in-dying drug and after the death of a patient who requested such a drug. For the next 10 years, at which time the Act expires, patients who are able to make an “affirmative, conscious, and physical act of administering and ingesting the aid-in-dying drug” will have the option of obtaining a life-ending drug, and more control over the manner of their death.
So If you or a loved one is facing a terminal condition, explore California’s new law and its expanded end-of-life options. For more information about this topic, contact me. Michelle Lerman, [email protected], 415 308-3640.