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Placing a patient’s life in their own hands

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in October that would allow a patient to end his or her own life by requesting aid-in-dying drugs.

The ABX2 15 bill, known as the “End of Life Action Act,” allows a person with a terminal illness diagnosed with six months or less to live the right to end his or her own life.

The bill provides immunity from civil or criminal liability to a person for being present when the patient self-administers the drug or for preparing the aid-in-dying drug as long as this person does not assist with the ingestion of the drug.

Under the bill, it is also a felony to coerce or influence a person into requesting the drug to end his or her life.  

Andrew Fiala, Fresno State director of the Ethics Center and a professor of philosophy, said that although there is a worry that the bill will put pressure on older people, he believes it is a good thing to give people some control over their own death.

“If someone wants to end their life, you sort of want to say that everyone else should stay out of it,” Fiala said. “It’s nobody else’s business but their own, as long as we can prevent some of the other negative things like lack of caregiving and then, of course, we need to keep the insurance companies out of it,” Fiala said.

He said the bill brings up other issues such as caregiving for sick and disabled people. It forces individuals to think about how we deal with disabled and sick people.

“Maybe the very fact that we’re talking about this – that this is sort of out in the open – now we’re considering it. I hope that that actually helps us think better about hospice care and how we need to care for folks who are dying and how we treat the disabled and our aging population,” Fiala said.

Helen Miltiades, director of the gerontology program and associate professor at Fresno State, said elderly patients who do not have a partner or adult children to take care of them are most likely to opt for assisted suicide.

“Some older adults don’t wish to be a burden to their family … however, it does give older adults control at a time in their life when they may be feeling helpless,” Miltiades said.

She said that a reason older adults may choose assisted suicide is that they are experiencing pain and suffering that is not well controlled.

She added that The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Care Providers and Systems found that 69 percent of hospital patients in California felt their pain was appropriately managed. So if pain was well managed, older adults may not choose to end their lives, she said.

“There is also a thought that once we allow persons with terminal illnesses to end their lives, why not other groups? In Belgium, they granted a 24-year-old physically healthy woman the right to end her life, due to her struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. Where do we draw the line? What about those with severe mental illness or other physical challenges?” Miltiaes added.