End of Life Option Law

by Carolynn Peterson RN, MSN, AOCN, CHPCA (President – 2013 through 2015)

The End of Life Option Act is Law – What Now?

Californians have been debating physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, right to die, and death with dignity for well over 20 years.  In 1997, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont were the first states to approve laws that supported a patient’s right to die.  With the governor signing Assembly Bill No. 15, End of Life Option Act this past month, hospices across the state of California are deciding how they will respond.

California Hospice and Palliative Care Association came out with a Position Statement on Right to Die in March of 2015.  The statement reiterated the fundamental hospice philosophy; hospice values life and neither hastens nor prolongs the dying process.  Hospice organizations believe that people do have a right to self-determination, to excellent pain and symptom management, and a right to refuse unwanted medical intervention and to allow death to occur naturally.  When cure is no longer possible, hospice provides the essential knowledge and skill to support the patient and their loved ones and facilitate the relief of physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering for the terminally ill. Fortunately, the End of Life Option Act recommends attending physicians provide counseling on participation in a hospice program.   Encouraging patients to experience the compassionate comfort care provided by multi-disciplinary hospice care teams provides patients with another option before making such a monumental decision.

So, what does that mean?  The legislation does not require health care providers to carry out a patients request pursuant to the End of Life Option law. In support of the hospice mission, Hospice of the Foothills will not participate in the decision or be present when a patient decides to end their life. Nor will we provide the life-ending medications. But, Hospice of the Foothills will not abandon the patients and families facing such a deeply personal choice. We will continue to support our patients and families even if the patient chooses to end their live.  Although we can’t be present when a patient self-administers the medication, WE WILL be there to provide support to the patient and the family before and after.

There are a wide range of views and perspectives in our society about the ethical issue of deliberately ending life for a person living with a terminal condition.  These should be recognized and respected.  We believe declining or withdrawing treatment is acceptable when in alignment with the informed wishes of the patient. Informed wishes of a patient start with an honest conversation with their physicians, family members, and loved ones.

Hospice believes the experience of dying is a significant part of life.  The process of dying often leads to enhanced meaning and purpose and can be a sacred experience for the patient and family.  Hospice of the Foothills can provide symptom management, pain relief, education, support, and comfort for both the patients and their loved ones.

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