504 Terminally ill Californians Received Prescriptions for Life-Ending Drugs

In California alone, at least 504 terminally ill people have requested a prescription for life-ending drugs since the law went into effect in June 2016.

The amount of people only includes those who have contacted advocacy group Compassion & Choices. However, the organization believes the overall number to be much higher than the one recorded but state officials have not yet released the data.

The doctor-assisted deaths allow only those who are terminally ill to voluntarily and legally end their life in a peaceful and dignified manner by using a prescription medication. The life-ending drugs are only available in states with the Death with Dignity laws.

Since February 2017, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon, Vermont and Washington follow such laws that enable the physician-assisted death. Oregon was the first state to adopt the law back in 1997 and has reported a total of 204 people who received life-ending prescriptions last year.

Under California’s law, patients can only obtain the prescription if they have six months or less to live. They must make two verbal requests within 15 days of one another and also submit a written request.

“We won’t have the full picture until the state releases its data about how many people have utilized the law, but we have enough evidence to show it is working remarkably well in a state with 10 times Oregon’s population,” Matt Whitaker, Compassion & Choices’ California director, said.

Some critics believe the process might be risky and lead to hasty decision making or misdiagnosis.

Others who have witnessed the drug’s potential can see the positivity in allowing those who are severely suffering to take their lives at their own terms.

Betsy Davis, a 41-year-old artist, was one of the first Californians to obtain a prescription once it became legal. She suffered from ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and held a party for friends and family right before her consumption of the medication on July 24.

Kelly Davis, her sister, doesn’t have any regrets about the decision which made her a firm believer in the law.

“It’s only strengthened my belief in the law,” Davis said. “Sometimes I think about where she would have been in the progression of the illness at this point. Would she be on a breathing machine? Would she be able to eat? I think the answer would be yes to the breathing machine, and no to the eating.”

Davis felt her sister was given control of her life by choosing to end it peacefully, rather than suffering.

“I think how much it would have broken my heart to see her suffering,” she said. “The fact she had that option, she embraced that option, it gave her back a sense of control.”

Sherry Minor referred to the law as her 80-year-old husband’s “greatest relief.” John Minor, a retired psychologist, consumed the medication on Sept. 15 after suffering intense pain from terminal lung disease.

“It was such a miracle the law passed,” Sherry, 79, of Manhattan Beach, outside Los Angeles said. “He was so incredibly lucky in that way. It was important for us to know that he go the way he wanted to go.”

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