End-of-Life Clarity for S.B.

We are following up on your recent article about the California End of Life Option Act. This is complicated terrain, and we feel some clarification may assist in understanding the positions of our institutions.

The California End of Life Option Act allows certain California residents with a terminal illness to self-administer a lethal dose of medication; the law mandates that patients and their doctors follow very strict procedures and complete very specific documentation.

The statute also provides that a health-care institution may prohibit its employees from providing these services; in this community, a number of organizations have indicated that they will not permit their employees to participate in the end-of-life care that the law now authorizes.

Last week, Sansum Clinic and the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara described their approach to the end-of-life care authorized by this new California law.

What We Did

Sansum Clinic and the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara will not prohibit their physicians from providing the care authorized by the End of Life Option Act. Each of our individual health-care providers will decide, on their own, whether or not to participate in this end-of-life care; however, our institutions will not prevent willing providers from offering these services to terminally ill patients.

What We Did Not Do

Sansum Clinic and the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara remain dedicated to providing comprehensive and compassionate care to our patients who suffer from terminal illnesses. Our providers have extensive expertise and experience in pain and symptom management. Our institutions offer to patients and their families both financial and emotional counseling, all free of charge. We also work hard to coordinate our care with a variety of home-care agencies. We have not altered that philosophy. We want to honor the law that our Legislature has enacted and that our governor has signed. But it will be our goal to achieve a level of comfort for all of our patients so that the provisions of this new end-of-life statute are rarely utilized in our community.

Marjorie Newman, MD, is assistant medical director for Sansum Clinic; Fred Kass, MD, is director of Medical Oncology for the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.

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