Residents of a veterans’ home in Napa County are suing California for the right to take lethal medication in the event of terminal illness.
As it stands, people living in any veterans’ facility in the state who want to access the End of Life Option Act have to pack up and leave.
The 2016 state law allows dying patients who are of sound mind, and can request and administer medication independently, to acquire a lethal drug prescription.
After the law took effect, the California Department of Veterans Affairs, also known as CalVet, announced that vets residing in its homes who intend to take the medication must be discharged first. They also barred all facility employees from discussing this option with residents.
That regulation is tied to a national VA policy forbidding federal funding from being used for what they term “assisted suicide.” The conflict has arisen in other states where aid-in-dying is legal. CalVet representatives declined to comment due to pending litigation.
There are eight live-in CalVet facilities, which serve more than 2,500 people. The Veterans Home of California in Yountville is the largest in the state and the nation.
Kathryn Tucker, an attorney with the End of Life Liberty Project at the UC Hastings College of the Law, said she spoke with residents in spring 2017 about this, and found most weren’t aware of the conflict.
“The health care providers were not telling patients at Yountville that aid in dying was an option, because they weren’t able to provide it without the residents being evicted,” Tucker said.
After that meeting, residents of the home started asking CalVet to change the regulation, with little success. On Tuesday, two residents, along with two veterans associations from the Yountville home, filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court.
They’re seeking a commitment from CalVet to inform residents of any of the eight homes about their end of life options, and to make clear that veterans can choose aid in dying without being evicted. Tucker said if the lawsuit is successful, it could have implications for other states.
The latest report from the California Department of Public Health shows that 632 people requested the drug in 2017, and 363 of them died following ingestion. The rest either died without taking the prescription, or did not report an outcome.
The state law has been in jeopardy since a Riverside County Superior Court judge ruled it unconstitutional this spring. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra asked the appeals court to stay the ruling. Another hearing will be held next week.