Two days before California’s assisted-suicide law was slated to take effect this Thursday, Cottage Health issued a statement announcing its staff and facilities would not participate in helping terminally ill patients end their own lives. “While we respect an individual’s right to make this very personal choice, as a care provider we have drafted a policy stating we will not participate in the option the new law authorizes,” the statement read. Cottage said it would continue to provide end-of-life counseling, pain management, and palliative care, but added the new law does not require a hospital setting for implementation. Instead, Cottage stated, for those who are determined to have no more than six months left to live, the law provides the option “to spend final moments of life in a home or home like setting.”
The law — the End of Life Option Act, passed last fall — is strictly voluntary and allows individual doctors and medical institutions to bail out. Last week, about 80 doctors and medical professionals discussed the bill with a Bay Area consulting firm specializing in such matters. The reaction, according to palliative care provider Dr. Dennis Baker, was decidedly mixed. “The people have spoken; they want the option of going out on their own terms. I get that,” he said. “But it’s hard for doctors to come around to playing an active role in their patients’ deaths.”
The gathering was part of the “grand rounds” that Cottage Health hosts once a month to allow medical health professionals to talk about matters of broader medical concern. Baker said it made little sense to hospitalize individuals seeking a medically assisted suicide; the law itself includes a two-week waiting period. “This is something that should happen in the home or hospice,” Baker added. By law, attending physicians must first determine their patients have six months or less to live, a finding that must then be verified by another doctor. The patients must also submit paperwork stating they were not coerced or pressured. How all this shakes out has yet to be seen. The assisted-suicide bill was signed into law late last summer by Governor Jerry Brown. Santa Barbara’s State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson strongly supported the bill, while Assemblymember Das Williams — normally on the same side of most issues — opposed it just as vehemently.