by Shannon Crane
This month, the California legislature passed the “End of Life Option” bill into law. This makes California the fifth state to legalize physician-assisted death by either legislative action or court ruling. Under section 443.2 of the law, an adult resident of California may request a prescription for an “aid in dying” drug if they meet all of the following criteria: (1) diagnosed with a terminal disease, (2) voluntarily wish to receive the prescription, (3) established California residency, (3) documented official request form, (4) establish the physical and mental ability to self-administer the “aid in dying” drug. The law prohibits consideration of any requests made solely because of age or disability. Further, the law prohibits any requests made via proxy or surrogate, including through power of attorney or any other legally recognizable health care decision-maker.
A key aspect of the new law falls under section 443.13. Under this section, the sale or procurement of life, health, or annuity insurance plans “may not be conditioned upon or affected by a person making or rescinding a request for an aid-in-dying drug” and “death resulting from the self-administration of an aid-in-dying drug is not suicide, and therefore health and insurance coverage shall not be exempted on that basis.” Further, a qualified individual’s self-administering of an “aid-in-dying drug shall not have an effect upon” any of the aforementioned policies, and shall be considered in the same way that a natural death from the underlying disease would be treated. This is crucial because many insurance policies can be affected, or even voided by the act of suicide.
In New York, Public Health Law section 2989 specifically prohibits physician assisted death. However, there is pending legislation in the New York Assembly, sponsored by Linda B. Rosenthal, that almost identically mirrors the California law. Past versions of physician-assisted suicide have failed to pass in New York, but with the wave of recent successful laws across the country, there may be a better chance for success. The bill will likely be heavily contested.
John Dorfman, How Life Insurance Policies Deal with Suicide, Time: Money (Aug. 15, 2014), http://time.com/ money/3117698/how-life-insurance-policies-deal-with-suicide/