In what may be the first-of-its-kind lawsuit related to California’s End of Life Option Act, the family of a San Francisco terminally ill cancer patient is suing the UC San Francisco Medical Center alleging that her physician and the system misrepresented that they would help the dying woman use California’s right-to-die law when her time came.
Instead, according to the July 7 lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court, Judy Dale’s wish for a peaceful death through the state’s physician aid-in-dying law was denied to her by the defendants’ “conscious choice to suppress and conceal’’ that they would not participate in the law, despite her repeated requests to doctors and social workers throughout last summer. The suit also names the university’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, a UCSF oncologist and the UC Board of Regents.
The lawsuit alleges that Dale “repeatedly requested their reassurance that they would participate; which they gave her over and over.’’ On August 18, the suit says, Dale “was shocked to learn from her UCSF social worker’’ that her doctors had decided to deny any eligible patient who requested aid in dying, “notwithstanding their many prior representations that they would provide it.’’
After caring for Dale as an inpatient throughout the summer of 2016, UCSF discharged Dale to her home to die without their assistance, the lawsuit says.
That set in motion “an urgent, panic-filled search for a physician who would be willing’’ to help her fulfill the process required by the End of Life Option Act, and obtain the lethal medication in time to use it.
The legislation, which was enacted on June 9, 2016, requires that patients must be at least 18 years old and mentally competent to make health care decisions — and that the lethal medication be self-administered. Two physicians must confirm a prognosis of six months or less to live, and a written and two oral requests must be made at least 15 days apart.
But by the end of August, when Dale made contact with a willing doctor, the clock starting running over again on the statutorily mandated 15 day waiting period, the suit says, and it was too late for Dale.
Every day until her death on September 13, according to the lawsuit, Dale repeatedly asked her daughters if it was the day she could obtain the aid in dying medication, but the 15 day waiting period had not yet expired.
“Her daughters had to tell their mother that she could not yet have the medication which would enable her to achieve a peaceful death as she wished,’’ the lawsuit says.
Dale died one day shy of the 15th day, “precisely the way she did not want to die, in bed, in a diaper, bleeding from her rectum and urinary tract, too confused by pain medications needed to manage the excruciating pain of terminal colorectal cancer to say goodbye,’’ the lawsuit says.
The suit, filed by plaintiff’s attorneys Kathryn Stebner and Deena Zacharin, alleges elder abuse and neglect; negligent infliction of emotional distress; misrepresentation/fraud and negligence. It seeks general, special and punitive damages.
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