Capitol Alert

How many people have taken advantage of California’s assisted death law?

Deborah Ziegler holds a photo of her daughter, Brittany Maynard, with her husband Gary Holmes, after the California Senate passed SB 128, a bill that would allow physicians to assist in the death of terminally ill patients, on May 4, 2015.
Deborah Ziegler holds a photo of her daughter, Brittany Maynard, with her husband Gary Holmes, after the California Senate passed SB 128, a bill that would allow physicians to assist in the death of terminally ill patients, on May 4, 2015. The Sacramento Bee file

Few California politics stories in recent years were bigger, or more intensely personal, than the legalization of assisted death. Even Gov. Jerry Brown reflected on his own mortality, and the comfort he would find in the bill’s options, when he signed it into law in October 2015.

Since it took effect last June, terminally ill adults with less than six months to live have been able to seek lethal medication from a physician. So, a year later, how many have?

We won’t know exactly until next month, when the California Department of Public Health is set to release its first annual statistical report on the number of assisted death prescriptions, how many patients used them and how many doctors wrote them.

But Compassion & Choices, the advocacy group behind the law, said they have already consulted with at least 504 Californians who went on to receive a prescription. That alone is more than a quarter the number of patients – 1,749 – that have ever sought lethal medication in Oregon, the first state to legalize assisted death in 1997; it’s likely that many more have undertaken the process without the organization’s help.

Compassion & Choices released the figure Thursday to tout the success of the law ahead of its first anniversary on June 9. It remains a controversial issue nationally, with religious and disability rights groups raising moral objections and concerns that it could be abused to target the elderly, the poor and other vulnerable populations.

While dozens of states each year continue to introduce assisted death bills, only two more have passed – in Colorado and Washington, D.C. – since California, bringing the total to seven jurisdictions.

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Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff