Concerns About California’s Right-to-Die Law and Alzheimer’s Patients

503px-Paracetamol_acetaminophen_500_mg_pills_crop-1-252x300This past spring, a right-to-die law took effect in California, permitting residents of San Diego County who are terminally ill to make the decision to end their lives through doctor-prescribed medications. As an article from NBC News explained back in June 2016, California’s “End of Life Option Act” made the state the fifth in the nation “to create a legal process for patients to obtain aid in dying.”

While the law comes with many protections to prevent a situation in which a person takes life-ending drugs without making that choice for him or herself, numerous elderly safety advocates have voiced concerns about how the law could enable certain forms of elder abuse, particularly among patients with dementia. At the same time, however, some Californians think the law has not gone far enough to protect patients suffering from dementia. What do you need to know about the law and how it may impact elderly patients affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia?

Understanding the Key Tenets of the End of Life Option Act

Does California’s right-to-die help or hurt nursing home patients? To better understand how the law works, we would like to discuss some of its key tenets. As an article in the OC Register explains, the law has numerous requirements for a terminally ill patient to obtain lethal medication prescribed by a physician, including:

  • Patient has a prognosis of six months or less to live;
  • Independent confirmation from two doctors concerning the patient’s prognosis; and
  • Patient is mentally competent (and thus able to make an informed decision about health care).

These requirements are only the first steps. After these requirements are met, then the patient is required to make two separate oral requests for assisted-death medication, 15 days apart from one another, to a physician. Both of those requests must have witnesses. In addition, in order for the patient to obtain the medication, she or he “must be able to self-administer the drugs.” A patient can also rescind her request for the medication at any time, and she is under no obligation to take the drugs once she obtains them.

Concerns About Elder Abuse? Should We Extend the Law Further?

All of these protections are connected to the law to ensure that the law’s aim is not abused. However, as we mentioned, some elder safety advocates voiced concerns about the “high risk of elder abuse or coercion,” according to a recent article in the Record-Bee Community News. More specifically, a senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the right-to-die law “simply put[s] pressure on people who may not fully want this at a time they are perhaps beginning to lose their capacity and are being pushed into a decision.”

Yet some argue, oppositely, that the law did not go far enough. Since the Act requires that the patient be mentally competent and able to administer the medication himself or herself, patients with Alzheimer’s largely are prevented from obtaining a lethal medication. Some California residents feel strongly that, if they begin suffering from dementia, they want to be able to have the right to die. However, the law as it currently functions would prohibit it.

For those concerned about nursing home abuse and elder manipulation, any expansion of the law could be a “slippery slope.”

Contact a San Diego Elder Abuse Lawyer

If you have questions about elder abuse and the right-to-die law, or if you have concerns about an elderly loved one’s safety, and experienced nursing home abuse lawyer in San Diego County can assist you. Contact the Walton Law Firm today.

See Related Blog Posts:

Report on Best Nursing Homes Ranks California Facilities

Elderly Patients in San Diego at Risk Following Hospital Discharge


(image courtesy of Michelle Tribe from Ottawa, Canada)

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