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More Than 500 California Patients Sought Life-Ending Prescriptions In 1st Year Of Law

2 June 2017, 9:30 am EDT By Katrina Pascual Tech Times
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The California state law on doctor-assisted deaths took effect in June 2016. Serving as the face of the controversial issue was 29-year-old Californian Brittany Maynard, who was dying from brain cancer and had to move to Oregon in 2014 to end her life.  ( Christopher Furlong | Getty Images )

Almost a year after terminally ill patients in California have been legally allowed to end their own lives, an advocacy group estimates that 504 persons in the state have opted for life-ending drug prescriptions.

The state law on physician-assisted deaths took effect in June 2016. Serving as the face of the controversial issue was 29-year-old Californian Brittany Maynard, who was dying from brain cancer and had to move to Oregon in 2014 to end her life.

The Choice Of Dying For Terminally Ill Californians

Released Thursday, June 1, the figures made up individuals who contacted Compassion and Choices to provide the information. The group, however, believes the overall data would be much higher, while state officials have not disclosed official numbers.

According to critics of the law, the option could result in misdiagnosis, hasty patient decisions, and dwindling support for palliative care, which provides comfort and sedation to dying people to help relieve their suffering.

“It’s only strengthened my belief in the law,” said Kelly Davis, sister of ALS patient Betsy Davis, who chose to take the deadly dose of medication last July 24, 2016.

The 41-year-old artist held a party as a goodbye to her loved ones, AP reported. For Kelly, it would have broken her heart to see her sister continue to suffer and not regain “a sense of control” in the face of her disease.

California is only one out of five U.S. states where these end-of-life prescriptions are legal. Under its law that will mark its first anniversary on June 9, patients should be given six months or less to live, send two verbal requests within 15 days of each other, and make a written request afterward.

Full Picture Of Law’s Effects

Physician-assisted deaths are also legal in Oregon — the first to adopt such law in 1997 — as well as in Colorado, Montana, Vermont, Washington state, and Washington D.C.

Oregon reported 204 persons received these prescriptions in the previous year. Of those, 133 died from the drugs, and most were age 65 and above and were diagnosed with cancer.

According to the advocacy group’s director, Matt Whitaker, there won’t be a “full picture” until California releases official data on the law. For him, personal stories showing the relief that the law afforded them reflect just what “the state legislature intended it to do.”

In the state, nearly 500 health facilities as well as 104 hospice centers have so far adopted guidelines for the deadly prescriptions. Over 80 percent of insurers too are believed to cover the drugs’ costs.

At present, the Life Legal Defense Foundation along with several doctors, are legally opposing the law, saying determining who has six or fewer months to live is prone to abuse.

Elizabeth Wallner, a stage 4 colon cancer sufferer since 2011, is unfazed. She said she will go for the option once she becomes eligible.

“Absolutely that’s the first thing I’ll do,” shared Wallner, who has undergone five liver operations, a colon surgery, and different rounds of chemotherapy.

If the clinical trial she’s part of doesn’t work in her favor, she will be choosing “the beginning of the green mile,” or the end as she sees it.

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