SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – It’s been nearly a year since terminally ill patients earned the right to end their own lives in California. Advocacy Group Compassion and Choices estimates that 504 Californians have received the drugs since the law took effect.
“As soon as I’m eligible, absolutely that’s the first thing I’ll do,” said Elizabeth Wallner, who has been battling stage 4 colon cancer since 2011.
California is one of only five states where end-of-life drugs are legal. Fifty-three-year-old Wallner has had five liver surgeries, one colon surgery, and several rounds of chemotherapy. Currently, she’s part of a clinical trial but if it doesn’t work out, she says she’s looking at the end.
“The beginning of the green mile, as I call it,” she said. “I don’t know that bravery really comes into it because you don’t really have a choice.”
The toll on her body has been excruciating but the toll on her son Nathaniel has been heartbreaking. He was 15 when Wallner was diagnosed.
“It was brutal,” she said. “He went through so much and he had to grow up so fast.”
Wallner doesn’t want her son to watch her suffer any longer.
A few years ago, Wallner fought her way out of bed and joined the movement to get terminally ill patients the right to end life on their own terms. On June 9, 2016, California became the fifth state to legalize end of life drugs.
“I felt a real profound sense of relief,” she told CBS13. “I was in control.”
“The 504 is only the ones that we know of,” said Kat West, policy director for Compassion and Choices. “There’s probably many more out there.”
That number is based on conversations with their doctors, West said, and will likely go up when the state releases its official report.
“We really believe that the law is working exactly as the legislature intended,” West explained. “It’s working very well.”
Wallner says she’s grateful for the part she was able to play in getting the law passed.
“Cancer’s been great, honestly,” Wallner told CBS13. “In a lot of ways, it’s been a gift.”
She hopes to pass along that “don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff” mentality to her son, now 22. Her doctors say after a 6-year fight with stage 4 cancer, it’s come down to the final months. And she says she’ll ask for that prescription when she’s ready.
“I am scared of putting the glass to my lips but I’m not scared of dying at all,” Wallner said.
The California Department of Health is expected to release its official report at the end of June.