Update on California’s End of Life Option Act

28 February 2017 Health Care Law Today Blog
Author(s): Claire Marblestone

In June  2016, California became the fifth state to enact an aid-in-dying law. California’s End of Life Option Act (the “Act”) authorizes an adult who is suffering from a terminal disease and meets other qualifications to request an aid-in-dying drug that may be prescribed for the purpose of ending his or her life.  Cal. Health & Safety Code § 443.2.

The California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) and the California Medical Board have published forms for providers to use when fulfilling a patient’s request under the Act.  CDPH is expected to report the number of people who died using aid-in-dying drugs, and other information collected from health care providers participating in activities authorized by the Act.

Since the effective date of the Act (June 9, 2016), California health care providers and health care facilities have been grappling with complying with the Act’s requirements.  To fulfill a patient’s request under the Act, health care providers must follow specific protocols outlined in the Act, and ensure that proper documentation is completed.  Individual health care providers are not obligated to participate in activities authorized by the Act, and may not be subject to civil, criminal, disciplinary, or medical staff actions for refusing to participate in activities authorized by the Act.  The Act allows certain health care providers, including licensed hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, to prohibit their employees, independent contractors, or other persons or entities, from participating in activities under the Act while on premises owned or under the management or direct control of the health care provider, or while acting within the course and scope of any employment by, or contract with, the health care provider.

Many privately-owned health care facilities have developed internal policies addressed to compliance with the Act.  California recently enacted new regulations which address compliance with the Act in public facilities operated by the Department of Developmental Services (“DDS”).  According to the new regulations, DDS will not provide aid-in-dying drugs to a terminally ill resident in a developmental center or state-operated facility.  Furthermore, no DDS employees or independent contractors may provide the end-of-life option on the premises of any DDS facility or while acting within the course and scope of any employment by, or contract with DDS.  In certain circumstances, DDS may arrange for a transfer of a DDS patient who intends to exercise his or her rights under the Act.  If a transfer is not available, the patient may file an appeal to exercise his or her rights under the Act at the DDS facility.

We will continue to update you on the implementation of the Act, and its implications for health care providers.

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