A San Diego woman's harrowing account of her aunt's death last month under California's new physician aid-in-dying law suggests that healthcare providers still have a long way to go to make the process work smoothly for terminally ill patients.
In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, Linda Van Zandt described her struggle to find two physicians to help her aunt, who was dying of ALS, obtain a lethal prescription allowed under the End of Life Options Act, which took effect June 9.
Compassion & Choices, which advocates for end-of-life choices, has heard of California doctors writing 25 lethal prescriptions so far but said the actual number is probably double or triple that.
Van Zandt's aunt, a 69-year-old San Diego resident, was rapidly losing her ability to swallow and feared she soon would be unable to qualify for aid in dying under the law, which requires patients to be conscious and mentally competent and take the medicine on their own. But her two neurologists at Kaiser Permanente did not return Van Zandt's calls for help.
Kaiser did not return calls for comment.
Van Zandt tried for days to find another doctor to start the process. A hospice physician finally agreed to start the process, and Van Zandt eventually was able to find a second doctor to certify her aunt for aid in dying and prescribe the barbiturate Seconal. “We were in a serious race against her symptoms,” Van Zandt wrote.
On July 7, family and friends gathered to be present when Van Zandt's aunt took the medication. But they had to wait hours until an Uber driver delivered it from the pharmacy. The woman swallowed the medicine, quickly became unconscious and died. “My aunt was surrounded with love, but the day was fraught and frightening,” Van Zandt wrote.