California’s assisted-suicide law was overturned Tuesday by a Riverside County judge who said the state legislature had illegally implemented it during a special session that was supposed to be restricted to healthcare issues. Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia gave the state five days to appeal and Attorney General Xavier Becerra told the Los Angeles Times the state was seeking an expedited hearing in the Court of Appeals.
The End of Life Option Act permits terminally ill patients to ask their doctor for lethal medications but does not obligate the doctor to administer the medications. It was passed in 2015 over the fierce objection of right-to-life advocates.
“We strongly believe that this law is valid and the appeals court will agree that the Legislature passed the law appropriately,” the advocacy group Compassion and Choices said on its website. “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.”
The Life Legal Defense Foundation had filed a motion that led to this week’s ruling.
“We are pleased with today’s ruling, which reinstates critical legal protections for vulnerable patients,” said Life Legal Defense Foundation Executive Director Alexandra Snyder. “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.”
The California law, which is similar to laws in six other states, allows patients with less than six months to live to ask for end-of-life drugs. Exact numbers are not available but officials have said that during the first six months the law was in effect, more than 100 people took advantage of it. Fifty-nine percent of them had cancer.
Oregon was the first state to adopt an assisted-suicide law more than 20 years ago. Since then, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Vermont, Hawaii, Washington and Washington, D.C., have passed similar legislation. The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that physicians may assist terminally ill patients but the ruling is being disputed.