The California Department of Public Health released its report detailing usage information during the first half-year of the End of Life Option Act's implementation. The law — Health and Safety Code section 443.19 (b) gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to request a doctor's prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable.

California is one of only six states where medical aid in dying is authorized — Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — along with the District of Columbia. This represents 18 percent of the nation's population.

The data shows that the law is working as intended, and terminally ill Californians are exercising their option to peacefully end intolerable suffering. The data is also comparable to that being tracked by Compassion & Choices California, a nonprofit advocating for access to all end-of-life care options, including hospice, pain control, palliative care and medical aid in dying.

During the half-year from the day the law took effect June 9, 2016, until Dec. 31, 2016, 191 terminally ill Californians received prescriptions from 173 doctors for aid-in-dying medication. Of these, 111 individuals (58 percent) decided to self-ingest the medication; 87.4 percent being 60 years of age or older. The report also revealed that the majority of people who received aid-in-dying prescriptions were insured (96.4 percent) and enrolled in hospice (83.8 percent).

The rate for those who died following ingestion of aid-in-dying drugs was 6.06 per 10,000 total deaths, based on 183,265 deaths in California from June 9, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2016. Other data includes:

  • median age was 73
  • 12.6 percent were under 60 years of age
  • 75.6 percent were 60-89 years of age
  • 11.7 percent were 90 years of age and older
  • decedents were 89.5 percent white
  • 54.1 percent were female
  • 83.8 percent were receiving hospice and/or palliative care
  • 72.1 percent had at least some level of college education

Twenty-one individuals did not ingest the drug and instead died of underlying causes. The outcome of the remaining 59 individuals (30.9 percent), who have been prescribed aid-in-dying drugs, is currently undetermined as there has been no outcome reported for these individuals within the period covered by this report.

First-year data from Compassion & Choices indicates at least 504 terminally ill adults in California have received prescriptions for medical aid in dying. It also reports that 80 percent of private insurance companies have covered the cost of medication, including Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter, many local health plans and all Medi-Cal plans.

Compassion & Choices will continue to provide education to the public and medical professionals through its bilingual Access Campaign to ensure that every eligible terminally ill person has access to the End of Life Option Act.

Information on the Act, reporting process and required forms can be found here.