Judge Overturns California’s Physician-Assisted Suicide Law

By: - May 16, 2018 12:00 am

Debbie Ziegler holds a photo of her daughter, Brittany Maynard, after the California State Assembly passed an aid-in-dying measure in 2015.  Brittany Maynard was a California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life in 2014. A judge threw out the California law, saying the legislature had passed it illegally.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

A California judge overturned the state’s physician aid-in-dying law Tuesday, giving the state’s attorney general five days to file an appeal to keep the law in force.

The law, enacted in 2015, allows terminally ill patients to request doctors to prescribe lethal medications. California was the fifth state to permit the practice. Today, six other states and Washington, D.C. permit physician-assisted suicide

In overturning the law, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia said that the California State Assembly had violated the state constitution in passing the End of Life Option Act during a special session called to deal with unrelated health care issues. 

“We strongly disagree with this ruling and the state is seeking expedited review in the Court of Appeal,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement to The Los Angeles Times. 

The Life Legal Defense Foundation, one of the plaintiffs that sued to overturn the law, applauded the decision. “We are pleased with today’s ruling, which reinstates critical legal protections for vulnerable patients,” said Alexandra Snyder, the foundation’s executive director. “The court made it very clear that assisted suicide has nothing to do with increasing access to health care and that hijacking the special session to advance an unrelated agenda is impermissible.” 

Supporters of the law, including Compassion and Choices, which has led efforts to pass aid-in-dying measures across the country, called Ottolia’s ruling a “misinterpretation” of the law. 

According to the California Department of Public Health, from June 9, 2016 through December 31, 2016, 258 individuals made requests under the law to their doctors for lethal prescriptions. Doctors prescribed the drugs to 191 individuals and 111 of them died after taking the medication. 

Under aid-in-dying laws like California’s, those eligible under the law must be determined to have less than six months to live, must make several requests to die, and must be considered mentally competent to make such a decision. 

Aid-in-dying is legal in Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont Washington state and Washington, D.C.  

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Michael Ollove

Michael Ollove covers health care for Stateline. Ollove worked for many years at The Baltimore Sun, as an enterprise reporter and an editor.