Family sues medical center for refusing to help patient die

Gavel and flag in courtroom
A California family has filed a lawsuit related to the state's right-do-die law. (Getty/AlexStar)

A family has filed a lawsuit against a California medical center for first agreeing to and then refusing to help their terminally ill mother die under the state’s End of Life Option Act.

The family of Judy Dale, a cancer patient, filed a civil lawsuit on July 7 in San Francisco Superior Court against the UC San Francisco Medical Center alleging that her physician and the health system misrepresented they would help her use the right-to-die law, according to The Mercury News. It’s believed to be the first-of-its-kind lawsuit filed in relation to the state law, the newspaper said.

Instead, Dale had to find another doctor to write her a prescription for the lethal drugs and died before a 15-day waiting period required by the law had passed. Her family said the medical center’s action denied Dale the peaceful death she wanted.

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In a separate report, the newspaper said just 173 California doctors wrote lethal prescriptions for 191 patients in the last half of 2016 quoting statistics from the California Department of Public Health. Of those, 111 ingested the lethal prescription.

The law, which took effect in June, 2016, is controversial and few doctors have chosen to participate. The reason? Physicians may have ethical objections or fear being stigmatized. A strong palliative care and hospice system in the state may provide patients an alternative, the newspaper reported, and some ethic groups may not believe in assisted-suicide as an option because of religious and cultural reasons.

The legislation requires that patients must be at least 18 years old and mentally competent to make healthcare decisions and that the medication be self-administered. Two physicians must confirm a prognosis of six months or less to live, and a written and two oral requests must be made at least 15 days apart.

The advocacy group Compassion & Choices reported higher figures, saying at least 504 terminally ill adults received prescriptions to end their lives based on inquires to its consultation program in the first year since the law that allows physician-assisted suicide went into effect.

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