Kathryn Tucker, Executive Director of the End of Life Liberty Project (ELLP), and Kathryn Stebner of Stebner and Associates, an elder abuse litigation firm, represent the plaintiffs, who seek injunctive relief and damages. "The Dale family was devastated that Judy was not able to choose a more peaceful death via aid in dying, as she so fervently wanted," said Kathryn Tucker. "The choice of a dying patient for a peaceful death through aid in dying is an essential civil right, implicating profoundly important issues of liberty, privacy, and autonomy."
The ELLP is a national patient rights advocacy group. Ms. Tucker, the ELLP's Executive Director, is a veteran of many of the groundbreaking efforts to protect and expand end of life choice in the U.S. for more than two decades.
Stebner and Associates is a San Francisco based law firm specializing in representing victims of elder abuse headed by Kathryn A. Stebner.
In 2016, Judy Dale was dying of metastatic colorectal cancer. She was 77 years old, and had survived two previous bouts with cancer. Judy's oncologist at UCSF informed Judy in May 2016 that she had incurable, Stage IV metastatic colorectal cancer.
Judy had served as primary caregiver to her mother as she was dying of cancer. She knew what the final ravages of terminal cancer entailed, and she did not want to endure them. Judy supported enactment of the California End of Life Options Act (EOLOA), which enables a competent terminally ill patient to obtain a prescription for medication that can be ingested to achieve a peaceful death. The EOLOA became effective in June 2016, shortly after Judy received the news that she had incurable, terminal colorectal cancer.
Judy talked openly and frequently to her health care providers at UCSF about her desire and intention to choose a more peaceful death through aid in dying. She was lead to believe, and was comforted to learn, that she would be supported in her wish for aid in dying by her physician at UCSF, that she would be provided the necessary prescription. Judy knew her UCSF health care team could not cure her, but she believed it could help her die peacefully.
Over the summer Judy's terminal colon cancer advanced inexorably. She suffered increasing pain, obstruction of and bleeding from her rectum, and other distressing symptoms. She knew her death was near. On August 18, 2016 a UCSF social worker told Judy that a decision had been made that none of her UCSF doctors would provide aid in dying. This disclosure shocked Judy and it caused her emotional distress and anxiety, which persisted until the moment of her death on September 13, 2016.
Judy began a frantic search for a physician who would be willing to help her. On August 29, she made contact with such a physician and had an initial visit with him on August 31, transferring her care and starting the clock running on the 15 day waiting period required by the EOLOA. Every day until her death Judy would ask her daughters if it was the day she could obtain the aid in dying medication. On the day before the end of the waiting period, Judy died, precisely how she feared and planned to avoid, in bed, in a diaper, bleeding from her rectum and urinary tract and too confused by powerful pain medications to say goodbye.
"This case is brought to serve the public interest and make clear the duty of medical providers who choose to opt out of providing aid in dying (as allowed by the EOLOA) to inform their patients in a timely fashion. It is not acceptable for health care providers to mislead a patient into believing that their wish for aid in dying will be respected and the care forthcoming, and then, late in the patient's demise, to disclose that this option will not in fact be provided." said Kathryn Stebner.
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFFS:
KATHRYN A. STEBNER
DEENA K. ZACHARIN
STEBNER AND ASSOCIATES
870 Market Street, Suite 1212
San Francisco, CA 94102
Tel: (415) 362-9800
SPOKESPERSON FOR FAMILY:
KATHRYN L. TUCKER, JD
END OF LIFE LIBERTY PROJECT