As California's right-to-die law goes into effect Thursday, a Berkeley-based doctor will open one of the first practices in the state that specializes in end-of-life options.
"I think it's an important right for the patient to have at the end of their life to control the way they die," says Dr. Lonny Shavelson.
The new law will allow terminally ill patients who meet certain criteria to ask their doctor for a prescription for life-ending medication. But in the event the patient's doctor declines to participate, Shavelson will step in. He already has several appointments with patients to evaluate their situations.
"This needs to be a well thought out, carefully planned," he says. "It's not something you call on Tuesday and say, 'Doctor, I'm suffering,' and on Wednesday we give you a prescription."
The Legislature passed Senate Bill 128 after the widely publicized case of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, an East Bay woman who had a terminal brain tumor and had to move to Oregon to legally end her life. Shavelson, who has written a book on the issue, says it's about time patients have the option to end their suffering.
Maynard's husband, Dan Diaz, is grateful terminally ill Californians will now have the option to die on their own terms.
"I think Brittany would feel a great sense of pride we were able to accomplish what we did," Diaz says. "In this day of modern medicine, a person shouldn't feel they should have to suffer like that their final few days on this green earth."
Says Shavelson: "If this is done well, it is a good way to provide one more option to patients who are dying."