Judge Overturns California Assisted Suicide Law, For Now

File - In this Sept. 24, 2015 file photo, supporters of a measure to allow the terminally ill to end their own life march at the Capitol while calling on California Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the bill in Sacramento, Calif. A California judge on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, threw out a 2016 state law allowing the terminally ill to end their lives, ruling it was unconstitutionally approved by the Legislature.

By Liberty McArtor Published on May 16, 2018

A California judge overturned California’s assisted suicide law Tuesday. The move is likely temporary. But law opponents are celebrating the small victory.

Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia of Riverside County said the law was passed unconstitutionally. The End of Life Option Act allows Californians with less than six months to live to request lethal drugs from a physician. It was passed during a special legislative session in 2015. It failed to pass during the regular session, due to opposition from Catholic hospitals, disability rights groups and others.

The special session was called to address certain healthcare issues, like Medicaid funding — not assisted suicide. That’s where opponents focused their lawsuit. On Tuesday, Ottolia agreed with their argument.

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“The court made it very clear that assisted suicide has nothing to do with increasing health care and that hijacking the special session to advance an unrelated agenda is impermissible,” said Alexandra Snyder, Executive Director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation. The group was one of the opponents that brought the lawsuit challenging the law.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has five days to file an emergency appeal. Becerra said he plans to do so.

When California passed the End of Life Option Act in 2015, it became the fifth state with such a law. The act met widespread support. Currently six states besides California and Washington, D.C. allow assisted suicide. They are Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado, Vermont and Hawaii.

Choice an “Illusion”

Supporters of the law say it allows terminally ill patients more choice. They also argue it hasn’t been abused. Kelly Davis, whose sister took her own life via the law in 2016, spoke with the Associated Press. “It gave her back control of her life, it let her die on her own terms,” she said of the act.

But opponents argue the law is fraught with danger.

“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,” said Stephen G. Larson. Larson is lead counsel for a group of doctors suing to have the law overturned.

Some argue it could be used to pressure patients into ending their life, even if they don’t want to.

Stephanie Packer, a terminally ill patient present at Tuesday’s hearing, fears that very thing. According to a press release from Life Legal Defense Foundation, Packer’s insurance company said it would not cover her chemotherapy treatment after the End of Life Option Act passed. But it would pay for her suicide medication.

“The bill’s proponents tout dignity, choice, compassion, and painlessness,” Packer said. “I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Choice is really an illusion for a very few. For too many, assisted suicide will be the only affordable ‘treatment’ that is offered them.”

“Suicide is not health care,” Snyder said.

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