Soapbox

California needs more answers on assisted suicide

A portrait of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life, sits on a table at the state Senate Health Committee in 2015. Legislators approved an aid-in-dying law later that year.
A portrait of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life, sits on a table at the state Senate Health Committee in 2015. Legislators approved an aid-in-dying law later that year. AP

Despite nearly two years of doctor-assisted suicide in California, we know little to nothing about crucial questions: Why are patients selecting it? What quality and duration of health care have they received? Learning these answers could help us improve end-of-life care in California.

 
Opinion

Senate Bill 1336 – which is set for a hearing Wednesday before the state Senate health and judiciary committees – would shed some light by allowing the California Department of Public Health to disclose basic information while completely respecting patient privacy and confidentiality. This reasonable, non-intrusive approach should receive bipartisan support, regardless of one’s views on assisted suicide.

Nicole Shirilla

Recently, aid in dying advocate Kim Callinan misleadingly claimed that SB 1336 will make it “impossible for patients to use the law” (“Don’t play politics with dying Californians,” Viewpoints, March 15). She ignores that health system representatives say we need more and better information, and neglects questions raised by the public health department on data compliance.

David Major

SB 1336, authored by Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, helps fill the information gap in the same anonymous way used by Oregon and Washington’s public health departments. California already asks doctors about the motivation of patients and mental health referrals. If physicians can’t answer these basic questions, that’s a much bigger problem.

The bill would help us learn whether a doctor’s training and expertise is suited to the patient’s underlying illness or palliative needs. If patients’ curative and palliative needs come first, doesn’t it make sense to ask?

SB 1336 is a necessary step for improving our understanding of end-of-life issues in California. Only those afraid of what the data might show – who don’t care whether the system works as promised or not – could oppose it. Everyone else should welcome this modest request. Californians need to know.

Nicole Shirilla is a hospice and palliative medicine physician in Columbus, Ohio and can be contacted at nms_hpm@mail.com. David Major is an attorney, bioethicist and fellow with the Paul Ramsey Institute in Pleasant Hill and can be contacted at dm_bioethics@protonmail.com.

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