Right-to-Die law takes effect in California, presents challenges

WESTWOOD, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As of Thursday, terminally ill patients can legally end their lives with medication prescribed by their doctor, but there are challenges facing both the terminally ill and the medical community.

Matt Fairchild knows he is losing his battle against Melanoma, but he won a right he and other terminally ill patients in California have long fought for - the End of Life Option Act, which is access to lethal medication to accept death on their terms.

Patients seeking help, though, may be surprised by the 15 steps the law requires.

Medical director Thomas Strouse, with UCLA's Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, is part of a team that included ethicists and chaplains. Within the system were many challenges, including pushback from some doctors.

"They say I went to the medical school to cure, and I would not want to participate in writing a lethal prescription," he said.

Doctors are not required to participate and some religious-based healthcare systems can and have opted out.

The law states the patient must be at least 18, have less than six months to live, be the one who initiates the request and be able to take the medication at home without anyone's help.

Experts added that if the attending physician finds indication of mental disorder, that physician is prohibited from writing a prescription.

With so many complexities, the advocacy group Compassion and Choices is helping health providers and the public find resources.

"The main thing that we're hearing from doctor's is just a sense of anxiety around never doing this before, as with any new medical procedure," said Matt Whittaker of the group.

From the Los Angeles Archdiocese, there was an outcry in a written statement from Archbishop Jose Gomez.

The statement read: "In a state where millions are forced to rely on government-subsidized care, who can imagine the government will continue paying for months and perhaps years of costly treatments rather than prescribing a cheap bottle of suicide pills."

Care providers said that in the four other states where the law is in place, there has been no such pressure. Many patients said that what they want is just an option.
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