More Than 500 Californians Given Life-Ending Drugs Since New Law Took Effect

Prescriptions for life-ending drugs have been sought by at least 504 terminally ill people in California since physician-assisted deaths became legal in June 2016, according to the advocacy group Compassion & Choices.

That number represents only people who have contacted the organization, which says the overall figure in the state is likely much higher, the Associated Press reported.

The data released Thursday is the first publicly available number in California. State officials have not released any figures.

The effect of the law in the nation's most populous state could be an indicator of what would happen if the practice was implemented nationwide, according to the AP.

In California, 498 health care facilities and 104 hospice centers have policies allowing for life-ending drug prescriptions, and more than 80 percent of insurance companies in the state cover the cost of the drugs, Compassion & Choices said.

"We won't have the full picture until the state releases its data about how many people have utilized the law, but we have enough evidence to show it is working remarkably well in a state with 10 times Oregon's population," said Matt Whitaker, the group's California director, the AP reported.

"The personal stories of the people who have utilized the law show it has provided comfort and relief from intolerable suffering, just as the state Legislature intended it to do," he added.

Physician-assisted deaths are also legal in Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Washington D.C., the AP reported.

In 1997, Oregon became the first state to introduce this type of law. In 2016, prescriptions for life-ending drugs were given to 204 people in the state. Of those, 133 people died from taking the drugs, including 19 who received prescription in previous years. Most of the patients were older than 65 and had cancer.

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