Doctors Advise Caution With New End of Life Law

California's controversial right to die law took effect Thursday, giving terminally ill patients the option to legally end their lives with medication prescribed by a doctor.

But some medical professionals still have their concerns and are taking a wait-and-see approach to the new law. For starters, they want patients to understand that the end of life option should not be their first option.

Jennifer Glass would have been happy to have such an option. But it came about 10 months too late.

Glass, a fierce backer of the new law, died in August after a years-long battle with lung cancer. Her widower, Harlan Seymour, remembers her last days.

"She wanted to have an option where she can have a peaceful way to end her life," Seymour said, "and not have to go through the trauma of fluid filling up in her lungs and being unable to breathe and suffocating in her lung fluid, which is essentially what happened."

The End of Life Option Act was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October. It stipulates that qualifying terminally ill patients have the option to legally end their lives with medication prescribed by a doctor. They must be over 18, mentally competent enough to make their own health care decisions and given a prognosis of six months or less to live.

Steven Pantilat, the director of the palliative care program at UCSF, says patients should consider the option carefully.

"Someone can't make this decision for you, and you have to be ultimately capable of taking the medication yourself," he said.

Laura Petrillo, a palliative care doctor at the San Francisco VA, originally testified against the option. She believes the issue is bigger than just a prescription.

"It's not safe to introduce this type of measure when we don't have things in place like universal access to health care," she said.

The California Department of Public Health will be in charge of tracking the data related to the law. It will provide an annual report on or before July 1 of next year.

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