Stewart Florsheim: Advancing Death with Dignity

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Attitudes are changing about death with dignity, and so is the law. Stewart Florsheim has this Perspective.

A few years ago, a close friend had an advanced form of prostate cancer. A successful entrepreneur, he wanted nothing more than to live, but the disease was terminal, and he was in extreme pain.

He decided to take advantage of California’s End of Life Option Act. The act gives mentally competent, terminally‐ill patients with less than six months to live, the option to take aid‐in‐dying medication. One of his concerns was the requirement of a 15‐day waiting period between the first and second verbal requests. In the midst of his suffering, he had to anticipate how long he could hold out and also plan the time so his children could fly in to be at his bedside.

On October 5, Governor Newson signed SB 380 into law. The new bill extends the act for another 10 years, and it also makes several improvements.

The most significant change is the 15‐day waiting period has been reduced to 48 hours. Other improvements include:
• Healthcare systems will have to post their aid‐in‐dying policies on their websites.
• If a doctor will not support a patient’s wishes, the doctor will have to document the request and, if asked, transfer the patient’s records to another practitioner.

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While these changes might not seem monumental, they confirm that end‐of‐life choice has gained acceptance and will now be easier to access and implement. In fact, in a recent survey, three out of four Californians said they support the act.

California is one of 10 states to support end‐of‐life choice. From its inception, in 2016, through the end of last year, over 1800 Californians have chosen death with dignity. Consistent with other states, not a single instance of coercion or abuse has been documented.

Let’s hope that more states join the movement—and the choice becomes as accessible as possible to all Americans who are terminally ill and do not want to suffer at the end of their lives.

With a Perspective, I’m Stewart Florsheim.

Stewart Florsheim is a writer and content strategist living in the East Bay.