Research: California’s Dying With Dignity Law working as intended

In June 2016 when California’s Dying With Dignity Law went into effect there was a lot of controversy about who would actually benefit. Now a new report by the California Department of Health  shows just who is choosing this option.

Although 190 people requested the life-ending drugs available under the act, only 111 actually used them. Of the others, 21 died before using them while the data from the other 59 doesn’t give any details from the prescribing doctors as to the status of those patients.

A further deep dive into the data reveals the following of those who died:

  • 87 percent were 60 years or older
  • Most were white, college-educated, receiving hospice care and had health insurance
  • The median age was 73
  • The majority had terminal cancer.

The data from this study is being studied carefully by lawmakers and researchers from across the country with an eye towards how the law might work in other states. But given that the period studied is just over half a year, California researchers are urging caution in drawing conclusions from the data.

There are divergent views on dying-with-dignity laws in states considering implementing one. They range widely. Some view it as a compassionate extension of a medical system that allows people to live longer. Others see how such a law could lead to underthought decisions, misdiagnoses and a slow rejection of palliative care which manages dying patients’ pain through medications.

As always, I look at such a law in terms of how it can help my clients. Most want to ensure they have their dignity intact up until their end and such a law would allow for it.

My clients currently plan for their final days with an eye to the availability of yet unknown methods of care. Such a law would allow an added option for them to consider and for that reason, I hope that Illinois takes up such a law in the near future. Here’s hoping.