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How the assisted suicide law in California works




Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Sherman Oaks, left, discusses the assisted suicide measure he and Assemblywoman Patti Berg, D-Eureka, unseen, introduced at a Capitol news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007.
Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Sherman Oaks, left, discusses the assisted suicide measure he and Assemblywoman Patti Berg, D-Eureka, unseen, introduced at a Capitol news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

California's assisted suicide law – the End of Life Option Act – takes effect Thursday.

Stephanie O'Neill, KPCC's healthcare correspondent, joined Take Two to explain how it works.

What makes a patient eligible for this program?

First you’ve got to be a California resident who’s at least 18-years-old and who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, one that your doctor expects will lead to your death in six or months less.

Next, you must be mentally competent with the capacity to make medical decisions. If you get the drug used to end your life and decide you want to take it, you must also be mentally and physically capable to self-administer the medication.

How do you obtain a prescription for the lethal medication?

It's important to know you can’t request aid-in-dying medication through an advanced health care directive or any other document.  Also, you can’t do it through a surrogate like a family member or a friend you’ve appointed to make end-of- life decisions  – when it comes to lethal prescriptions, the requesting and administering of the drugs all has to be done by you alone.

Then, you must ask your attending doctor for the lethal drugs TWO times ORALLY and once in writing.

The two oral requests have to be at least 15 days apart, while the written request has to be made on a special form and it needs to be witnessed by two people. At least one of those people cannot be a relative or someone who is going to benefit from your estate.

You must then discuss this decision with your attending physician without anyone else present, except an interpreter if needed.

Doctors, on their end, are required to talk with you about alternatives to the lethal prescriptions such as pain relief and comfort care through palliative medicine and hospice; how the drug may affect you and that death might not come immediately; and that you can at any time withdraw the request.

Next, you'll need to have a second physician – the "consulting" doctor – who must confirm all the requirements were met. If either of your two doctors determine you might have a mental disorder,  you’ll have to see a mental health specialist to make sure your judgment isn’t impaired.

Finally, your doctor can write the prescription and then you can fill it at any time you want. Under state law, if you decide to take it, then you have to final attestation form 48 hours beforehand. Also, you don’t have to take the drug just because you signed the paper work. 



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