Photograph by Richard Lautens — Toronto Star via Getty Images

Most were cancer patients.

By Sy Mukherjee
June 28, 2017
June 28, 2017

In 2016, California became the sixth state to enact a “right-to-die” or physician-assisted suicide law (Washington, D.C. also has one in place). Health officials from the Golden State now report that 111 terminally ill patients used the law to legally end their lives in its first six months.

The End of Life Option Act (EOLA) went into effect on June 9, 2016. Between then and December 31 of last year, “191 individuals received aid-in-dying drugs under the EOLA, and 111 people died following ingestion of the prescribed drugs,” writes the California Department of Public Health. That means that 59 people who requested life-ending medication didn’t wind up taking it by the end of 2016 (21 others died without taking the drugs in the first place).

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Officials went on to break down the illnesses and ages of the patients who chose to end their lives. More than 87% were over the age of 60 and more than 83% were already receiving end-of-life care. The strong majority of these people had terminal cancer diagnoses (58.6%) while another 18% had degenerative conditions like ALS and Parkinson’s. The rest had a mix of heart disease, non-cancer lung conditions, and others.

Out of the cancer patients, 20% were suffering from lung cancer—which is the single deadliest kind of cancer in America, killing about 156,000 Americans each year. Another 18.5% were breast cancer patients.

As for race, 102 out of the 111 patients were white, six Asian, three black, and three Hispanic. The vast majority also had some college experience or a higher degree.

So-called “Death with Dignity” laws are in place in California, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and (by court decision) Montana. Colorado voters approved their own right to die legislation in a popular referendum during the 2016 election.

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