Bioethics Blogs

PAS in California: the first 6 months

In a 2016 data report, the California Department of Public Health says that in the first 6 months after California enacted the “End of Life Option Act,” 111 people committed suicide with the help of a doctor’s intentionally lethal prescription, as permitted under the terms of the law.  The time period reviewed was the last 6 months of 2016.

The people in question are understood to all have been terminally ill, as the law intends.  The majority of these 111 were white and college-educated.  The median age was 73.  They had a variety of diseases; a few more than half of the 111 had cancer. 

The report says 258 people asked their doctors about PAS.  Of these, 191 got prescriptions, and 111 took the drugs (orally) and died.  Another 21 did not take the drugs.  What happened to the remaining 59 of the 191 is not known.  The law calls for prescribing physicians to report outcomes after prescription, when known.

In the time period PAS accounted for 6 of every 10,000 deaths in California.  By comparison, the Associated Press reported that the figure for 2016 in Oregon was 37 of every 10,000.

84% had been enrolled in hospice or palliative care, suggesting to me the acceptance of PAS as a standard of care by specialists in palliative care.   Or perhaps the patients decided palliative care had failed them.  Details of the mindsets of the 111 are not part of the report.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.