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The first noble truth of Buddhism is that existence is suffering. It's precisely because suffering is such a big part of our experience as living beings that much of our medical care attempts to alleviate it. Now, starting June 9th, 2016, California will permit those in the most pain, whose deaths are imminent, to commit medically assisted suicide, reports NPR.
If the new death-with-dignity law, the End of Life Option Act, sounds potentially problematic to you, that's because it is. But it attempts to balance the needs of the terminally ill with those of doctors and society as a whole, and has conditions built in that should prevent abuse. Let's take a look.
End of Life Option Act
Last October, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act that was debated in legislative extraordinary session that closed this week. "It's a historic achievement for California, and for a limited universe of people dealing with a terminal illness," Senator Bill Monning told reporters. "It could indeed be a transformative way of giving them the option of a compassionate end-of-life process."
The new law, which goes into effect on June 9, allows a terminally ill patient who has six months or less to live to request medication that would terminate his or her life. The patient would need to see two doctors in order to receive a recommendation and both would have to agree. Also patients would have to attest to the intent to take the fatal medication two days prior to making the move.
Requiring multiple doctors to make the decision and the patient attestation with a two-day window is supposed to protect patients and doctors. Doctors do not administer the medication. Patients take it themselves. Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists also do not have to participate.
The affirmation and 48-hour window for patients is meant to protect patients from abuses. The intent to terminate life cannot be a hasty decision on the patient's part ... nor can it be the decision of another. This requirement should also prevent criminal homicides.
Of course not everyone is going to avail themselves of the end of life option. Life is suffering but we don't exactly know what awaits us after. Still, for many patients the passage of the law already alleviates suffering somewhat.
"It gives me a great peace of mind to know that I will not be forced to die slowly and painfully," Elizabeth Wallner said in response to the law's passage. Wallner is 52 and has stage 4 colon cancer that has spread to her liver and lungs. "It gives great comfort to know that the agonizingly traumatic image of me suffering will not be my family's last memory of me."
If you or someone you know is terminally ill and you are concerned about end-of-life options, speak to lawyer. The laws on this controversial issue vary widely from state to state. Get guidance.