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GRASS VALLEY, Calif. October 25, 2017 – New technology extends life, but it also can make suffering a terminal illness unbearable. California’s new “right-to-die law” gives people in this situation greater autonomy to end their suffering – but it creates new potential for conflict, too.

Medical and legal issues surrounding California’s End of Life Option Law will be discussed during a free seminar at 9 a.m. this Saturday, Oct. 28, at Peace Lutheran Church, 828 W. Main St., near downtown Grass Valley.

Speakers include:

  • Dr. James McGregor, a specialist in hospice and palliative medicine in the Auburn area. He’s affiliated with Sutter Health and the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California.
  • Dylan Ann Hendricks, a partner with Hendricks McFarlane in Grass Valley. The firm specializes in elder law, trusts and wills.

California’s law carves out a new legal niche by allowing terminally ill people to obtain a death-dealing drug that they can give to themselves. The speakers will discuss the law, then take questions from the audience.

Their presentations are part of a five-part series exploring “End of Life Issues,” hosted by Peace Lutheran Church’s Contemporary Issues Study Group. This discussion offers great tips for seniors, children of seniors and people who work with seniors.

Coming up in the series: Small group discussions on issues regarding end of life and death will be held on Saturday, Nov. 4.

On both days, the program starts at 9 a.m. with coffee and light snacks in the Old Fellowship Hall at Peace, 828 W. Main St., near downtown Grass Valley. Speakers start at 9:15 a.m., and the program ends at 10:45 a.m.

For more information, visit www.PeaceLutheranGV.org or call (530) 273-9631.

New options, new struggles

California’s End of Life Option Law went into effect in June 2016. It’s available only to people diagnosed with a terminal illness – that is, with a prognosis of fewer than 6 months to live.

To obtain a life-ending drug, the patient must ask a doctor twice over two weeks for a prescription, then ask a third time in writing – all three times directly to the doctor. A second doctor must review the patient’s record and concur, according to legal experts. Death in this case is not considered suicide.

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While the law affords new choices, it also can spark new conflicts: Medical professionals, especially, may find themselves struggling between their oath to do no harm and their mission to ease suffering.

For medical providers, participation in the End of Life Option Law is voluntary. Dignity Health, the owner of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley, is not participating in the law’s provisions.

Sutter Health has embraced the new law, opening the option to patients at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, Sutter Roseville Medical Center and other Sacramento-area medical offices. A page on the corporation’s website explains in detail how a terminally ill patient can obtain a life-ending drug.

Ethical questions surrounding death under this law should encourage institutions to provide a robust palliative care program, experts have suggested.

In Oregon, the first state to pass a “Death with Dignity” law in 1997, patients who receive an aid-in-dying drug report reduced stress and greater peace with their dying process, experts said. However, not all patients who receive the life-ending drug actually use it, according to reports on the law’s results.