Some California hospitals are opting out of the state’s new assisted suicide law, which allows qualifying adults diagnosed with a terminal illness to request a lethal drug from their doctor.
The End of Life Option Act, signed in October and effective since June 9, made California the fourth state—along with Oregon (1997), Vermont (2013), and Washington (2008)—to legalize some form of assisted suicide.
Euthanasia advocates applauded the bill, while critics warned it might encourage physicians and family members to pressure patients to end their own lives.
Hospitals are caught in the middle, but those with moral qualms about assisted suicide, or that don’t have the resources to cater to it, are opting out of the lethal network.
Enloe Medical Center in Chico, Calif., is one of several hospitals choosing not to offer assisted suicide because the facility is not equipped to help someone make the decision to end his or her life.
“Enloe believes that the personal choice to end life, as well as the complexity of the process, often do not involve a stay in the hospital and are best and most appropriately made in a personal setting, in consultation with a family physician and trusted friends and family,” hospital administrators told me in a prepared statement.
Hospital staff will not be allowed to evaluate someone seeking assisted suicide or prescribe lethal drugs. Instead, Enloe will continue offering pain relief and hospice care “to enhance the quality of remaining life.”
Feather River Hospital in Paradise, Calif., affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, opted out based on “a respect for all human life,” administrators told the Chico Enterprise-Record.
Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., a top-rated hospital in Los Angeles County, is still evaluating whether or not to provide the lethal drugs.
“This is a complicated issue and we understand our community is invested in this decision, so we are being thoughtful and deliberate in our process,” administrators told me via email. “We continue to assess whether our inpatient facility is the right setting for aid-in-dying procedures.”
Doctors at Huntington voted “behind closed doors” to opt out, the Los Angeles Times reported in early May. But the final decision rests with the board of directors, which hasn’t made a move either way.
“Until such time, Huntington Hospital will fully comply with the act regarding its patients and will ensure patients are made aware, as appropriate, of the full range of end-of-life and palliative care options available to them, both from our hospital and from other providers,” the statement said.
Other major hospitals have opted in, including Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, and The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The California Department of Public Health has refused to say how many hospitals have already opted out of the law. The agency won’t have to release the numbers until it issues its annual report in July 2017.
California’s law was based on Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, the nation’s first assisted suicide law. Last year, 132 persons in Oregon took their lives with legal drugs, according to a 2015 report. The number of Oregonians opting for assisted suicide has steadily increased from 16 in 1998, and now totals 1,545 persons.
While California’s hospitals grapple with whether to provide lethal drugs, doctors must make their own decision. Individual doctors can always opt out, even if the hospital where they work has embraced the law. The California Medical Association, after opposing a similar bill in 2007, withdrew its opposition to the current law shortly before it passed. But the American Medical Association still opposes assisted suicide, calling it “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.”
— by Samantha Gobba