The Community Link, a newspaper serving eastern Ventura County, published “Planning Options For End of Life,” in the June 2017 issue. The article is published in its entirety below, or see The Community Link, June issue – page 11.
Planning Options For End of Life
By Terri Hilliard
No one wants to talk about it, but death is inevitable. We don’t know how or when it will occur, yet, most people delay planning for this eventuality.
While the subject may seem morose and even uncomfortable, it is essential to explore your options and detail your wishes in advance – everything from retirement to long term care to distribution of assets to funeral services. To a large extent, you can control what happens at every stage of your life, but it must be well thought out and properly planned.
We all want to live as long as possible, but what do we do if we contract a terminal illness or in some other way are given only a few months to live? Your estate plan will lay out how your affairs will be handled after your passing, but what can you do while you’re living and find you have no hope of recovery? You have a number of options.
One such option is turning to the California End of Life Option Act, which went into effect a year ago this June. The law permits terminally ill, adult patients with capacity to end their lives under certain conditions and medical supervision.
If someone is diagnosed as terminally ill with six months or less to live, the individual may now choose to end his or her life in a peaceful and humane way with prescribed medication. In many cases, this option can ease one’s last days that could be filled with agony, family trauma, and costly hospital bills. Many proponents of this process call it “death with dignity.”
The landmark law outlines how to obtain the medication, plus safeguards to protect both the patients and the physicians. The Act also details specific conditions that dying patients must meet in order to end their lives, including:
- Being a California resident,
- Having two doctor opinions,
- Making their own, informed medical decisions,
- Voluntarily making two oral requests, at least 15 days apart, for life-ending medication,
- Making one, final written request for the medication to end one’s life, and
- Administering their own lethal drug prescribed by a qualified physician.
The new law also makes it a felony for anyone to coerce a dying person to request the fatal drug. However, it is important to discuss your end of life wishes even before you become ill or diagnosed as terminal.
Your estate plan will include Advanced Directives or a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment form, which outline how you want to be treated medically, if you become seriously hurt, terminally ill or incapacitated. Share these instructions with your doctor and discuss the end of life option to determine the physician’s willingness to assist you, if necessary.
Your physician is not required to help and may have valid reasons for deciding not to participate. This is why it is important to have these discussions while you are healthy and have the time to make your arrangements, if they become necessary and desired. Regardless of your physician’s response, make certain it is recorded in your medical record.
In the event you decide to take the end of life option and receive a lethal prescription, you are not required to take the medication. About half of those terminally ill under this program decide not to take the medication. Some wait until their pain or discomfort becomes intolerable.
Making life altering choices is essential to any estate plan, which details one’s wishes and helps relieve many of the decision-making burdens on surviving family members. Physician-assisted dying is only one end of life option available to you.
At Terri Hilliard PC, we have created a unique, personal process to help families while living and to support them through the end of life. Give us a call 805-201-2552 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment.