Over 110 terminally ill patients took their own lives in first six months of right-to-die law in California

California was the fifth state to introduce the law

New data shows a total of 111 people in California took their own lives using lethal prescriptions during the first six months of a law that allows terminally ill people to request life-ending drugs from their doctors.

A snapshot of the patients who took advantage of the law mirrors what’s been seen in Oregon, which was the first state to legalize the practice nearly two decades ago.

The majority of those who have died under aid-in-dying laws in both states were white, college-educated cancer patients older than 60.

The End of Life Option Act made California the fifth state in the nation to allow patients with less than six months to live to request end-of-life drugs from their doctors.

Physician-assisted deaths made up six out of every 10,000 deaths in California between June and December 2016, according to state data.

That’s much lower than the 2016 rate in Oregon, where lethal prescriptions accounted for 37 per 10,000 deaths.

Supporters of the law pointed to data showing that 191 prescriptions were written, but only 111 patients had taken the pills as of the end of December.

Writing the lethal prescriptions is completely voluntary for doctors and medical facilities, and some, including all Catholic and church-affiliated hospitals, have not allowed their physicians to prescribe such medicines.

Data breakdown

  • 59% of those who died using a lethal prescription had cancer
  • 46% of those who died were male
  • 90% who died were white, 3% Latino and 5% Asian
  • 58% who died had a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • 57% who died had Medicare, Medicaid or another type of government insurance; 31% had private insurance; 4% were uninsured
  • The rate of lethal prescription deaths was 6 per 10,000 total deaths in the state.