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Report Examines Who's Using Calif. Aid-In-Dying Law

In June 2019, terminally ill California resident Chris Davis requested aid-in-dying medications but passed away before getting them due to the mandatory 15-day waiting period.(Amanda Villegas)
In June 2019, terminally ill California resident Chris Davis requested aid-in-dying medications but passed away before getting them due to the mandatory 15-day waiting period.(Amanda Villegas)
July 10, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - More patients with terminal illnesses in California are making their decisions to end their suffering using the state's aid-in-dying law.

The number last year was 405, compared to 337 people the year before, according to a new report from the California Department of Public Health.

Samantha Trad, California state director of the nonprofit Compassion & Choices says the law is working as intended. But she believes it would be even more effective if California doctors were allowed to make exceptions to the waiting period, like they can in Oregon.

"The main doctor who ends up writing the prescription can actually waive the mandatory minimum 15 day waiting period in Oregon," says Trad, "if the patient is unlikely to survive the waiting process."

A study done by Kaiser Permanente of Southern California showed that one third of patients who request the medication die before completing the lengthy application process.

The new report from the state also found big disparities in who actually uses the law. The patients are 87% white.

Just over 1% are Black. Four percent are Hispanic. And 6.4% percent are Asian American.

Patricia González-Portillo, national Latino communications and constituency director with Compassion & Choices, says the low number of Latino patients may be the result of this group, in particular, ending up in religious hospitals that don't allow their doctors to participate in medical aid-in-dying.

"There are some Latinos that don't want to suffer at the end of life," says González-Portillo. "They want that option to be able to take a medication, surrounded by their loved ones, and die peacefully. Not be forced to suffer at the end of life. We want those options."

She says Compassion & Choices is currently running a series of public service announcements on TV and social media across the state, to raise awareness in communities of color of the option of medical aid-in-dying. These are also posted on the organization's YouTube channel.

Disclosure: Compassion & Choices contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Health Issues, Senior Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA