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KPBS Midday Edition

Calif. Aid-In-Dying Law Helps 111 Patients End Lives In First Six Months

A portrait of Brittany Maynard sits on the dais of the Senate Health Committee as lawmakers heard testimony on proposed legislation allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., March 25, 2015.
Associated Press
A portrait of Brittany Maynard sits on the dais of the Senate Health Committee as lawmakers heard testimony on proposed legislation allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., March 25, 2015.
Calif. Aid-In-Dying Law Helps 111 Patients End Lives In First Six Months
GUEST: Dr. Ted Mazer, president-elect, California Medical Association

The state has released the first report on how the new end-of-life option law is being used in California. During the first six months the law went to effect from June to December 2016. Doctors wrote 161 prescriptions and 111 patients use them. 21 people who requested the prescription died before using it in the rest did not use the drugs by last December. There are many stories about how the end-of-life option has helped terminally ill patients in the state but opposition to the new law is not gone away. Joining me is Doctor Ted Mazer . He's also present in light of the California medical Association. Welcome back to the program. Were you expecting more people to take advantage of this lot right after it went into effect? I don't think we had an expectation of hundred -- how many people what it what it. There are a lot of stories but this number may be low and we will have to wait and see what kind of data comes forward we get the next report. Caliphate's effort to pass the legislation got a big boost when the medical Association stopped opposing it and changes position to neutral. Since that time, would you say the CMA are most of its members actually have moved from neutral to supporting the law? We they remain in a neutral position on the law. We put out a great deal of information both to the public and physicians as to how it works. As first individual physicians, we have not revisited that. We might see if they have changed but we did all of that evaluation before we went neutral to see where physicians in the state were. There are still many reports of patients who were struggling to find a doctor who will write them a prescription to end their lives. What kinds of concerns stop some doctors from writing this prescriptions question mark I think we have to look at this in two different ways. When it comes to access to write the prescriptions, we see a lack of access to care and poor areas of the state. That's an issue that goes beyond the end-of-life act to go we have to consider why do people have access to care issues. In terms of white physicians might or might not participate, many have different opinions. This is a confidential -- those who feel that it is not should not be forced to participate in they don't. There are many cases where physicians are working under the guidance of an organization that has banned under the law the physicians been able to write those prescriptions while on any properties owned by the hospital. 191 prescriptions in this report written by 173 physicians. That means some doctors are writing more than one. Do you see the burden of this law falling on select number of doctors who will write end-of-life prescriptions question mark I think that is a statement but there are a number of positions are becoming attending physicians taking care of the patients and they are the ones that are obligated to involve themselves in the valuation and potentially providing the prescriptions for the patients. There will be physicians who will become the focus of writing this prescriptions if they choose to participate. We are seeing that now. I think what are the most important points here and having debated people who were opposed to this lot was that people felt that this would and palliative care. They absolutely agree with this and hope that it would drive an increase in the use of availability of palliative care. We have 84% of the people who got these prescriptions and use them that were in hospice. That mitigates the argument that this was a bypass. Have any reports of abuse of the law surfaced as part None that came out in the report. If we look at the demographics of was using this some arguments was that this was going to be used to get rid of the poor and that simply is not true. The number of people that are Medi-Cal very low in this. The educational level very high. The demographics are not people of color. It is a dominance of white educated people. Doesn't mean that other people are using it it just means that is more consistent with the general population and not being focused on the poor or the disadvantage. There are many safeguards written into the slot. Some say there are too many. They also say the price of a lethal drug is high and they are -- many people will not be able to use this law. To you see -- do you see the slopping expanded? Refined yes but I'm not sure but expanded. This report is excellent. It focuses on several problems mentioned. The cost of the drugs escalated as part of the general problem we are seeing. Just before the law went into effect some of them doubled in price from what they were. Many cases the drug costs are being covered by insurance and insurance programs -- the number of people that are insured is very high in this. Hopefully we will see declining costs and more participation of regulation to make sure this doesn't happen in by getting the data that was required under the law we are able to focus on where the problems may be. There are lots of safeguards that was intentional. We do have any advice for patients that are wanting to take advantage of this law? I think I would like to focus more the patient than the family members. In terms of information, yes, there is great information out there. They provide a very elaborate maybe to detailed online fact sheet. You can go to their website and look up the end-of-life act options. We hope there's more education available so they better understand their role in this process. We've done our best on that but we have to keep on repeating that education. I've been speaking with Doctor Ted Mazer . Thank you. Thank you very much.

In the first six months since California's aid-in-dying law went into effect, 111 terminally ill patients ended their lives with prescription medication, according to a report from state health officials last month.

California doctors wrote prescriptions for 191 patients between June 9 to Dec. 31, 2016, though 21 died before taking the drugs. Information on the remaining 59 patients were not reported in 2016.

The Los Angeles Times noted that despite California's greater diversity compared to Oregon, which passed the country's first aid-in-dying law nearly 20 years ago, most of the patients who died under the laws in both states last year were white and college-educated. Ninety percent of the patients who died under the law in California were white and nearly 60 percent had a college degree.

Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group that backed California's law, said it expects more patients will use the law this year. More than 500 terminally ill patients received prescriptions under the law since June 2016, the group said, based on requests to its doctor consultation program.

Dr. Ted Mazer, president-elect of the California Medical Association, joined KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday to discuss how many doctors are willing to write these prescriptions and continued opposition to the End of Life Options Act.