Can I Help My Terminally Ill Parent End Their Life Under California’s “Assisted Suicide” Law?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Dec 08, 2015 | 0 Comments

Expected to go into effect in 2016, a new California law authorizing “assisted suicide” only permits California physicians to facilitate or hasten a patient's death under certain circumstances. If you are not a doctor treating a patient or if you are a loved one who helps a person commit suicide in any way other than helping administer a duly-prescribed drug as allowed under the new law, you can be charged with a serious crime.

The “End of Life Option Act,” AB 15, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October, 2015, allows terminally adults who meet specific qualifications to ask their doctor for a drug for the purpose of ending their life.

Extensive Requirements and Procedures

Given the controversial nature of the law and the risk of misunderstandings or abuse, the law sets forth extremely specific and extensive requirements in order for a sick individual to request assistance ending their life.

Specifically, California Health and Safety Code Section 443.2 allows an individual who is an adult with the capacity to make medical decisions and with a terminal disease may make a request to receive a prescription for an aid-in-dying drug if all of the following conditions are satisfied:

(1) The individual's attending physician has diagnosed the individual with a terminal disease.

(2) The individual has voluntarily expressed the wish to receive a prescription for an aid-in-dying drug.

(3) The individual is a resident of California

(4) The individual documents his or her request as required under the new law

(5) The individual has the physical and mental ability to self-administer the aid-in-dying drug.

Only the terminally ill patient, not relatives, agents, or other potential decision makers, can make the request for the drug.

You Can Be Present With a Loved One, But You Can't Help Them Take the Drug

If your loved one has received a prescription from their doctor after all of the qualifications have been met and extensive procedures followed under the new law, you may be present with them when they take the drug, but you cannot “assist with the ingestion of the drug.”  This action is not one of the activities that qualify as the Nevada crime of unauthorized practice of medicine.

Health and Safety Code Section 443.1 states that:

Notwithstanding any other law, a person shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability solely because the person was present when the qualified individual self-administers the prescribed aid-in-dying drug. A person who is present may, without civil or criminal liability, assist the qualified individual by preparing the aid-in-dying drug so long as the person does not assist the qualified person in ingesting the aid-in-dying drug.

The new law also sets forth certain conduct relating to physician-assisted suicide which constitutes California felonies. Specifically, it is a felony offense to:

  • knowingly alter or forge a request for drugs to end an individual's life without his or her authorization
  • conceal or destroy a withdrawal or rescission of a request for a drug, if it is done with the intent or effect of causing the individual's death
  • knowingly coerce or exert undue influence on an individual to request a drug for the purpose of ending his or her life,
  • destroy a withdrawal or rescission of a request without the individual's consent, or
  • administer an aid-in-dying drug to an individual without their knowledge or consent.

Health and Safety Code Section 443.17

Additionally, the law specifically states that in addition to the felonies listed above, the law “does not preclude criminal penalties applicable under any law for conduct inconsistent with the provisions” of the new physician-assisted suicide law.

As noted, the law is complex, detailed, and allows for physician-assisted suicide in limited conditions and only if a large number of qualifications and procedures are met and followed.

If you have questions about California's physician-assisted suicide law, please give one of our experienced California criminal defense attorneys a call. Also refer to our article on advising or assisting a suicide in California.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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