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Berkeley Doctor Opening Clinic To Help Patients End Their Lives

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) -- California's Death with Dignity law takes effect later this week, and a physician in Berkeley has opened up a clinic to help people end their lives.

From his office in the backyard of his Berkeley home, Dr. Lonny Shavelson is preparing for yet another career.  He's saved lives as an emergency room physician, told life stories as a writer and photojournalist, and now he will be in the business of helping people end their lives.

"Thursday, June 9th, this law starts, and nobody knows what will happen on that day," Dr. Shavelson, Director of Bay Area End of Life Options told KPIX 5.

Shavelson was referring to California's new 'right to die' law, which allows physicians to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill patients who choose to end their lives.  Dr. Shavelson has created a new practice called Bay Area End of Life Options to explain what those options may be.

"Nobody should be calling to say 'I want to do this.'  What they should be saying is 'I want to talk about it. I want to consider what this means to me,'" Shavelson said.

The issue gained critical mass with the doctor-assisted death in Oregon of Brittney Maynard, the California woman who chose to end her life rather than wait for a cruel death from her brain cancer.  Testimony recorded before her death helped convince the legislature to enact the law.

"Every terminally ill American deserves the choice to die with dignity.  Let the movement begin here, now," Maynard said in the message.

Even though there are safeguards in the law to prevent that choice from being rash, or involuntary, Dr. Shavelson expects many doctors to be reluctant to help their patients in this ultimate medical decision.

"In the end, you give the patients all the choices they can possibly have and then you respect their choice, as oddly we do for everything in medicine except this one thing," Shavelson said.

He says he can help physicians understand how the option works, and help patients if their doctors refuse.

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