California End of Life Option Act and Your Estate Plan

We all hope to never get to a place where we are terminally ill and suffering. But, with people living longer than ever before addressing end-of-life decisions and making our wishes known is more important than ever. 

In upholding the constitutionality of a state law prohibiting doctor-assisted suicide, a 1997 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court left it to the states to decide whether to grant people suffering from a terminal illness the right to choose to die. California is one of 10 states granting terminally ill patients the option to choose physician-assisted suicide. The California End of Life Option Act went into effect on June 9, 2016. According to the most recently available data from the state, 337 people died in 2018 after being administered drugs requested from their physicians under the provisions of the statute. 

Guidelines and procedures contained in the statute must be strictly followed by both the patient and the physician. The authority that you grant to a trusted friend or relative through an Advance Health Care Directive prepared by your estate planning attorney may be insufficient for making decisions related to the End of Life Option Act. The following information offers a look at the act and limits it places on someone making decisions for you.

Patients Eligible Under the End of Life Option Act

The End of Life Option Act grants adults suffering from terminal illnesses the right to ask their doctors to prescribe medication allowing them to end their lives with dignity. The law creates stringent guidelines designed to ensure that a patient’s decision is voluntary and is a true reflection of their wishes.

Qualifying to take advantage of the option offered by the statute requires that a patient meet the following criteria:

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • A California resident.
  • Be certified by their physician as having a terminal illness.
  • Possess sufficient mental capacity to make their own decisions about medical care.
  • Be capable of self-administering the end-of-life medication prescribed by their physician.
  • Make a voluntary request for end-of-life medication without being influenced by relatives, friends or other parties.
  • Only the patient may make the request and it must be made directly to the patient’s doctor.

The illness must meet the definition of “terminal illness” contained in the statute. It must be incurable and irreversible. The nature of the illness and that reasonable medical judgment anticipates that it will cause the patient to die within six months must be confirmed by the patient’s attending physician.

Drafting of the statute was done with care to avoid having it construed as authorizing assisted suicide or euthanasia. Section 443.18 of the statute specifically distinguishes it from laws pertaining to assisted suicide, euthanasia, and mercy killing.  

Required Procedures Under The Law

Qualified patients and their attending physicians must follow several strict guidelines, including the following:

  • Two verbal requests at least 15 days apart must be made directly to the doctor.
  • A written request is signed and delivered by the patient to the doctor.
  • The diagnosis of a terminal illness must be confirmed by the attending physician and one other.
  • The attending and one other physician must certify the mental capacity of the patient to make decisions about medical care.
  • The attending physician must certify that the decision by the patient to seek end-of-life medication was voluntarily made without undue influence or coercion.

It is crucial to comply with the law that only the patient can initiate a request for end-of-life medication, and only the patient may administer the drugs. It is a criminal offense for anyone, including a physician or nurse, to administer the medication or to assist in administering it.

Advance Directives For Health Care and End-Of-Life Requests

A durable power of attorney for health care or an advance directive for health care should be part of your estate plan. They allow you to appoint someone you trust as your agent to make health care decisions when you cannot make them on your own. However, the End of Life Option Act does not permit anyone to make the request for aid-in-dying medication on behalf of a terminally ill patient. 

Consult An Estate Planning Attorney For Further Information

The End of Life Option Act offers terminally ill patients the ability to have control over how they die. If you have questions about the law or need someone to review your estate plan, the professionals at NM Law, APC, have more than a quarter of a century of collective experience providing trusted advice and representation in all matters related to estate planning, wills, trusts, and estates. Contact NM Law, APC, by calling today at (949) 253-0000 to schedule an appointment.

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