Family of terminally-ill cancer patient file end-of-life lawsuit against UCSF

The family of a terminally ill cancer patient has filed a lawsuit against UCSF Medical Center alleging the hospital misled their loved one into believing they would assist in providing aid-in-death under the state’s End of Life Option Act.

Attorney Kathryn Stebner filed the lawsuit on July 7 in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of the family of Judy Dale and called it the first of its kind.

Dale’s dying wish to end her life on her own her life on her own terms last summer, according to Stebner. Dale had terminal, stage IV colorectal cancer and had watched her own mother die from cancer.

“She knew what death looked like in the end and she wanted to be able to control that,” Stebner said.

Dale repeatedly told doctors about her plans for a peaceful death under California’s End of Life Option Act that went into effect in June 2016. It allows patients with less than six months to live to request end-of-life drugs from their doctors.

In August 2016, the 77-year-old decided it was her time, but UCSF denied her request, according to the lawsuit.

“The social worker said to her, ‘Didn't anyone tell you we're not going to be doing that here’,” Stebner said. “This was something that was very, very important to her. The records show over and over again, conversations with physicians, with nurses all over, that this is what she wanted.”

The state reports a total of 111 people took their own lives in California using lethal prescriptions during the first six months of that the law was enacted.

Stebner said physicians can opt out of providing the aid, but Dale was never told that by UCSF.

After two weeks of searching for another physician, Dale had to wait 15 days under the law before she would have received aid-in-dying.

“Two days before she would have been able to avail herself, she died a painful, horrible death that the daughters had to witness,” Stebner said. “She had to die in a way exactly like she didn't want to.”

The lawsuit claims elder abuse, misrepresentation, and negligence against UCSF. Stebner hopes it will prevent another family from going through the pain Dale’s daughters went through. They are seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

KTVU made repeated attempted to contact UCSF Medical Center for comment. As part of a statement they said, "UCSF Medical Center allows its doctors and other clinical employees to support patients wishing to end their life under the act and also respects clinicians’ rights not to participate."