Life Matters Media
Quality of life at the end of life

UPDATE: California Assisted Suicide Law Overturned In Court

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

California’s controversial physician-assisted suicide law has been ruled unconstitutional by a state judge.

Judge Daniel A. Ottolia, of Riverside County Superior Court, on Tuesday overturned the law nearly two years after it took effect, ruling that the state Legislature improperly passed the measure during a special session on health care funding.

Ottolia did not, however, rule on the legality of allowing Californians to kill themselves.

The court is holding its judgment for the next few days to give the state time to file an emergency appeal, The Sacramento Bee reports.

“We’re very satisfied with the court’s decision today,” Stephen G. Larson, lead counsel for a group of doctors who sued to stop the law, told the newspaper. “The act itself was rushed through the special session of the Legislature and it does not have any of the safeguards one would expect to see in a law like this.”

California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he would appeal immediately.

“We strongly disagree with this ruling and the state is seeking expedited review in the Court of Appeal,” Becerra said in a statement.

The law, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, allows some terminally ill patients with a life-expectancy of six months or less to request life-ending drugs from their doctors.

The End of Life Option Act, modeled on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, requires terminally ill patients to submit two oral requests (a minimum of 15 days apart) and one written request to his or her attending physician. The written request must also be signed in front of two witnesses who attest that the patient is of sound mind and not being coerced.

The bill passed the Legislature in September 2015, after a previous version failed that year.

Proponents of the practice used the high-profile death of 29-year-old cancer patient Brittany Maynard to generate support in the nation’s most populous state.

In 2014, Maynard was diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma and was given six months to live. Maynard and her husband, Dan Diaz, moved from California to Oregon to obtain doctor-prescribed barbiturates.

Working with the right-to-die advocacy group Compassion & Choices, Maynard used her story to raise awareness about the practice and inspire other terminally ill Americans to end their lives on similar terms.

However, the bill was strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, disability rights advocates and some physicians.

Some bioethicists and religious leaders maintain that physician-assisted suicide is incompatible with physicians’ primary role as healer and would foster resentment towards sick people hoping to live as long as possible. The American Medical Association, the nation’s largest physicians organization, strongly opposes the practice.

“The shadowy, religious-right groups attempting to derail the law any way they can are not only denying terminally ill patients access to expanded options at the end of life, they are disrespecting the will of the people,” according to a statement from advocacy group Death with Dignity.

The organization vowed to “work closely” with the California Attorney General’s office and other political allies to “provide evidence why overturning the law will cause irreparable harm to people who are going through the process or plan to do so.”