Waiting for “the die-medicine”
Three months after California’s Death with Dignity Act took effect on June 9, there are still ”challenges getting everyone up to speed” said spokesman, Sean Crowley. The state Department of Public Health, which will track the number of Californians who request prescriptions and those who use the drugs, is not releasing figures until next July, when the law will have been in place for about a year. So far, at least 50 Californians have received prescriptions, according to Compassion Choices, and about 120 have reached out to a Berkeley physician who is dedicating his practice to aid-in-dying.
Dr. Faith Protsman, a family medicine doctor at Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, while supporting the law and the sense of control it gives the terminally ill, said she is unlikely to participate because she instead would encourage a patient to seek palliative care and hospice to find physical, mental and spiritual comfort.
The Compassion & Choices website lists hospitals and health systems that say they are adopting policies supporting patient choice and educating their staffs about the law. But nowhere is there a list of California doctors who will help patients follow through with their desire to die. Nor will phone calls to Compassion & Choice’s end-of-life care consultants offer any leads. And that will not change, Crowley said. “Most doctors don’t want to be characterized as aid-in-dying specialists, since it is a small part of their entire practice and they may rightfully fear retribution for publicly supporting the law from its opponents.
But if Oregon’s experience is a guide, more doctors will become comfortable participating in the practice. In 2000, 22 doctors were prescribing medications to end the lives of patients, according to the Oregon Public Health Division, which tracks all data related to the state’s Death with Dignity Act. By 2015, the number had grown to 106 doctors
Dr. Steve Jackson, a retired South Bay anesthesiologist who supports the law, says doctors here will need time to adjust to the law.
Dr. Lonny Shavelson, a Berkeley-based physician who recently established a practice devoted solely to evaluate patients who might meet the requirements of the new law, said he is alarmed at the number of Californians who cannot find a doctor to assist them with the law.
From The Santa Cruz Sentinel, 17 September 2016, By Tracy Seipel, Bay Area News Group