Osher Institute hosts right to die panel

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Members of the institute listen to a panel composed of one medical doctor for the right to die and another against it. A lawyer was there to help interpret the laws. (Graham McTague / Daily Titan)
Members of the institute listen to a panel composed of one medical doctor for the right to die and another against it. A lawyer was there to help interpret the laws.
(Graham McTague / Daily Titan)

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) hosted a panel of experts Wednesday at the Elks Club Lodge in Fullerton to address the recently passed physician-assisted suicide law in California.

The event, held as part of the Health and Wellness Medical Lecture series put on by OLLI, opened with an introduction on the law by Dan Lawton, attorney and Georgetown University School of Law alumnus.

Lawton pointed out that the law was first introduced in California in 1992 under Proposition 161. This proposition and those that followed were rejected in California.

However, a physician-assisted suicide law was passed in Oregon in 1994, which California’s new law is modeled after. Other states with similar laws or court orders include Washington, Vermont and Montana.

The requirements for a patient to receive physician-assisted suicide are not complicated, Lawton said.

“You have to have a terminally ill adult patient who’s a California resident,” Lawton said. “They have to meet certain qualifications, which include capacity to make medical decisions, the mental capacity and they have to have the physical ability to self-administer lethal drugs.”

Lawton also said that the attending physician must determine that the patient is suffering from a terminal disease and the patient must request the use of lethal drugs twice verbally and a third time in written form.
Following the presentation from Lawton was a presentation by Robert Olvera, M.D., advocate of the nonprofit Compassion and Choices, who agreed with the law.

“The reason I became an advocate with Compassion and Choices is because I saw an injustice in California,” Olvera said.
Olvera said he witnessed his 25-year-old daughter, Emily Rose, battle leukemia for the last 17 years of her life. During her last four months, she suffered from a stroke that caused her to go blind, on top of having four different types of cancer in her brain and spinal cord, Olvera said.

“My daughter died last year begging me to give her sleeping pills to let her die peacefully,” Olvera said.
Following his experience, Olvera spent much of his time advocating with Compassion and Choices, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization working to expand patients’ choices when reaching the end of their lives.

Last to speak was Vincent Nguyen, M.D., Hospice and Palliative Care Specialist, who felt that the law on physician-assisted suicide is dangerous.
Nguyen believes in the use of palliative care for patients suffering from terminal illness, stating that the goal is to reduce the symptoms and stress of patients by caring for them in a physical, psychological, emotional and even spiritual aspect.

“We’re not here to prolong the dying process, but rather to journey with the patients and their family during the course of this illness,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen believes that we live in a death-denying culture, always trying to find solutions, which leads people to become unprepared and fearful of dying.

“When we’re sick and we’re disabled, when we’re stressed … we don’t think straight,” Nguyen said. “Death is something we must fight.”

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