In the first six months since California’s right-to-die law was implemented, 111 people used it to take their own lives, according to data released Tuesday by the California Department of Public Health.
The state’s End of Life Option Act — which went into effect on June 9, 2016 — permits patients whose doctors say they have less than six months to live to request life-ending drugs from their doctors, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The California Department of Public Health reported that between June 9, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2016, 111 terminally ill patients took the life-ending drugs they were prescribed under the law. The 111 individuals were among the 191 people who received prescriptions for life-ending drugs. Twenty-one of the 191 individuals who received the prescriptions died without using the drugs, while the status of the other 59 individuals is “undetermined.”
The health department also noted that of the 111 individuals who died, 87.4 percent were 60 or older, 96.4 percent had health insurance, and 83.8 percent were receiving hospice or palliative care. A majority of the individuals were white and college educated.
Alexandra Snyder, an attorney with Life Legal Defense Foundation and an opponent of the right-to-die law, told the Times that California has effectively decriminalized assisted suicide. She also argued that the law offers no way to determine whether a patient was coerced into taking life-ending drugs.
“It’s really tragic that doctors are now thinking that the best they can do for a patient is to give them a handful of barbiturates and leave them to their own devices,” Snyder said.
Matt Whitaker, a spokesperson for Compassion & Choices, a group that worked to pass the law, told the Times that the data show “that even during the early months of the law’s implementation, the law was working well and terminally ill Californians were able to take comfort in knowing that they had this option to peacefully end intolerable suffering.”