New ‘Right-to-Die’ Law May Boost Hospice, Palliative Care Numbers

The passage of so-called “right-to-die” legislation in the nation’s most populous state may lead to an increasing number of people taking advantage of hospice and palliative care — at least that’s the belief of one of the law’s architects.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the End of Life Option Act into state law on Oct. 5. The law will likely go into effect in early 2016, The Washington Post reported.

“We expect and hope that the law will lead to more questions about different options, and will lead to more people being able to take advantage of hospice and palliative care,” Toni Broaddus, Compassion & Choices’ California campaign director, told Home Health Care News.

Compassion & Choices worked to promote the passage of “right-to-die” legislation in California. The nonprofit, which aims to expand choice and improve care at the end of life, offers end-of-life consultation, referrals, guidance and planning resources free of charge. 

Broaddus explained that the California law may allow end-of-life care to be discussed more openly amongst doctors and patients than in the past. Additionally, though some home health workers may care for a patient who eventually choses legal physician-assisted suicide, the workers have no obligation to be involved in any way.

“There’s certainly not any requirement for in-home health care services to do anything because of this law,” Broaddus told HHCN. “No one has to participate if they don’t want to.”

In fact, Broaddus said, most patients who take the life-ending medication are with family and loved ones, without a home health care provider present.

Brain cancer patient Brittany Maynard, who chose physician-assisted suicide in Oregon at age 29, became one of the faces of and the inspiration behind the California law. Compassion & Choices chronicled Maynard’s decision in several videos made public online. 

The law has inspired fierce advocacy and opposition, and in explaining his decision to sign the bill, Gov. Brown acknowledged the moral quandary that the issues posed and will continue to pose as the law takes effect. In what be another indication of the hot-button nature of the issue, HHCN reached out to numerous home health care operators and provider associations about the legislation in California, and all declined to comment.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson