A Riverside County Superior Court judge Tuesday found California’s physician-assisted suicide law unconstitutional because of how it was implemented.
Judge Daniel Ottolia ruled in favor of groups challenging the End of Life Option Act based on legislative overreach, potentially barring further use of the law, which the Attorney General’s Office was forced to defend in court.
The Attorney General’s Office now has five days to appeal Ottolia’s decision.
The Napa-based Life Legal Defense Foundation and other groups sued to have the End of Life Option Act invalidated, arguing that it failed to pass constitutional muster because the Legislature approved it during a special session focused on healthcare, bypassing requirements otherwise in place during regular session in 2015, according to published reports.
The act went into effect in June 2016. The plaintiffs originally filed suit on the grounds that it was at odds with civil rights protections in place under state and federal law.
Former U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson of Riverside, who went into private practice in 2009, was one of the legal guns hired to represent opponents of the act, which is regulated by the California Department of Public Health.
Supporters of the law argue that it provides a humane avenue for terminally ill patients, who still have the capacity to govern their lives, to elect for themselves how they wish to die.
“The vast majority of Californians support this law, and terminally ill Californians and their families deserve better than to have this option ripped away from them,” according to a statement released by the Denver-based advocacy group Compassion & Choices. “The invalidation of this law would be detrimental to every state and every person who supports dignity and autonomy at the end of life.”
So-called “aid-in-dying” laws are on the books in Colorado, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Montana and Washington state, according to Compassion & Choices.
Under the End of Life Option Act, a patient must be at least 18 years old and reside in California, suffering from an incurable and irreversible illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live, to qualify to proceed with physician-assisted suicide.
A California board-certified doctor is required to assess the patient’s mental status and condition before the California Department of Public Health will approve utilization of the option.
The agency requires the submission of forms authenticating the patient’s decision. If approval is granted, the patient is permitted to self-administer lethal drugs.
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