Assisted-Death Law Concerns Coroners; Group Tries To Overturn Law
A group representing California county coroners has taken issue with a new law (ABX2-15) legalizing physician-assisted death in the state, the Los Angeles Times' "PolitiCal" reports (McGreevy, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 10/7).
Meanwhile, opponents of the law are seeking to overturn it through a ballot referendum in November 2016 (McGreevy, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 10/6).
Background on Law
Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the bill to legalize physician-assisted death on Monday.
Assembly member Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) introduced the legislation during a special session on health care financing after a similar measure (SB 128) stalled in July amid a lack of support in the Assembly Committee on Health.
ABX2-15 will allow some dying patients to end their lives through lethal doses of medication, as long as:
- Medication is self-administered;
- The patient is mentally competent; and
- Two physicians confirm the prognosis that the patient has six months or less to live.
Several amendments were added to the bill in the special session, including one that requires patients to reaffirm their consent within 48 hours prior to taking the lethal dose of medication.
The bill's authors also added an amendment to sunset the law after a decade, making it effective only until Jan. 1, 2026. However, the state Legislature could vote to extend it (California Healthline, 10/6).
Coroners' Issues With Law
The California State Coroners Association has expressed concerns with the new law, including how to classify physician-assisted death on death certificates.
The law states that "death resulting from the self-administration of an aid-in-dying drug is not suicide," according to "PolitiCal."
Rocky Shaw, a supervising investigator for San Bernardino County and president of CSCA, said coroners could be unable to determine whether a death was sanctioned by law, which could complicate the decision on whether to conduct an autopsy.
Shaw said coroners likely will seek guidance on classifying such deaths from the state Department of Public Health, which has been tasked with collecting documentation on physician-assisted death.
Sean Crowley, with Compassion & Choices, said individuals who undergo physician-assisted death should be classified as dying from their underlying terminal illness, similar to what is done under Oregon law.
Meanwhile, some insurers deny life insurance payouts in cases of suicide, but a spokesperson for Eggman said that under the new California law, "[h]ealth and life insurance cannot be exempted on the grounds that the person committed suicide by participating in the act" ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 10/7).
Effort To Overturn Law
In related news, Seniors Against Suicide has filed papers with the state Office of the Attorney General for a November 2016 ballot referendum that seeks to overturn the new law.
Once OAG issues a title and summary, the group will have until Jan. 3 to collect 365,880 voters' signatures to qualify the referendum for the ballot.
In a letter to Attorney General Kamala Harris (D), Seniors Against Suicide spokesperson Mark Hoffman wrote that the group is "working with other opponents of medically killing depressed and ill patients" ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 10/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.