The executive director of a nonprofit law firm Friday lauded a Riverside County judge for cementing his earlier decision to strike down California’s physician-assisted suicide law based on an unconstitutional act by the Legislature, while proponents of the law urged the Attorney General’s Office to press ahead with an appeal.
“We are pleased that the court’s ruling will restore the protection that the act removed from the ill and vulnerable,” said Alexandra Snyder, executive director of the Napa-based Life Legal Defense Foundation, which handles cases opposing abortion and physician-assisted suicide.
“Life Legal has always maintained that the `End of Life Act’ violates the constitution and California’s long-standing public policy of protecting its citizens from being `helped’ to commit suicide.”
Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia on May 15 issued a ruling invalidating the End of Life Option Act, citing legislative overreach related to how the Legislature approved the law in 2015. Ottolia issued a formal order Wednesday declaring his ruling final.
The Attorney General’s Office filed an appeal within five days of Ottolia’s May 15 declaration, asking that the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Riverside permit the End of Life Option Act to remain in force while the appeals process unfolds. However, a panel of appellate court justices denied the request for a stay.
The Denver-based advocacy group Compassion & Choices, a leading backer of the End of Life Option Act, said Friday that the appellate court left open the possibility of a motions hearing to consider provisional reinstatement of the act, but moving forward will require immediate action by state prosecutors.
“The law should remain in effect until the appeals process ends, but the attorney general must act today, so dying Californians with only weeks or days left to live still have access to this palliative care option to peacefully end needless suffering at life’s inevitable end,” Compassion & Choices Legal Affairs Director Kevin Diaz said.
John Kappos, an attorney representing Compassion & Choices, expressed confidence that if the California Supreme Court ultimately hears the case, the jurists will reject the “narrow interpretations” that resulted in the law being overturned.
Ottolia ruled that the act failed to pass constitutional muster because it was approved during a special session of the Legislature convened by Gov. Jerry Brown to address Medicare funding shortfalls. The judge said the End of Life Option Act did not “fall within the scope of access to healthcare services” and was “not a matter of healthcare funding.”
“The legislation decriminalizing assisted suicide cannot be deemed a matter incidental to the purpose of the emergency (legislative) session,” Ottolia said in his final order.
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 has been regulated by the California Department of Public Health.
According to Compassion & Choices, since the act took effect, 504 Californians have utilized it. Supporters say it empowers terminally ill patients, who still have the capacity to govern their lives, to elect for themselves how they wish to die.
So-called “aid-in-dying” laws are on the books in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Montana, Washington, D.C., 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 health department will approve use 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.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: