California considers expanding assisted suicide access without terminal diagnosis

The new law would allow people with early to mid-stage dementia to end their life.

Published: April 2, 2024 2:48pm

The California legislature is considering a law that would greatly expand the state's assisted suicide policies to allow people to end their lives without being diagnosed with a terminal disease, including dementia patients. 

Under California's current law, adult residents can end their lives if they have been diagnosed with a terminal disease and are not expected to live more than six months. The new bill replaces the term "terminal disease" with "grievous and irremediable medical condition," and it would allow non-resident adults to travel to the state to obtain the procedure.

"It’s about personal autonomy and making decisions about your own exit from your one precious life on your own terms," the bill's sponsor, California Democratic State Sen. Catherine Blakespear, said, Politico reported Monday.

Both the current law and the proposal require people seeking assisted suicide to make two requests at least 48 hours apart. 

The bill states that a person would not need a prognosis for their life expectancy in order to obtain the procedure, but it must be "reasonably foreseeable that the condition will become the individual’s natural cause of death."

A person with early to mid-stage dementia will also be able to end their life, but the step is too far even for advocates of assisted suicide. 

Compassion & Choices, a top group that lobbies for assisted suicide, said: "Expanding the eligibility criteria to include individuals with 'a grievous and irremediable medical condition' raises concerns. The criteria in the existing law, requiring terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live, were carefully crafted to parallel the qualification standards for hospice care."

The group also said that "expanding medical aid in dying is not a suitable solution" for people experiencing dementia.

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