California Court Reverses Ruling Against Assisted Suicide

California Court Reverses Ruling Against Assisted Suicide

It’s been two years, and the assisted suicide law remains controversial

The End of Life Option Act (EOLOA) went into effect in June, 2016, and it continues to be contentious.

  • Opponents argue that it is both immoral and unconstitutional, that there is too much room for abuse.
  • Advocates believe that terminally ill Californians deserve the right to “choose a peaceful death, free of unbearable suffering,” as per John Kappos, who represents Compassion & Choices, a group that supports the law.

A California appeals court overturned a lower court order that had reversed the state’s assisted-suicide law. The ruling reversed the May 2018 judgment from Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia that declared the law unconstitutional because it was adopted during a special legislative session that addressed improving the medical system and health of Californians.

To avoid abuse, checks and balances have been carefully built into the law

The EOLOA allows adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs if a doctor finds they have six months or fewer to live. For those who want to use the EOLOA, checks and balances have been carefully built into the law.

  • A patient must make two oral requests, at least 15 days apart. There must be witnesses and second opinions about their conditions.
  • The process is spread over time to avoid someone’s making an impulsive decision.
  • EOLOA is voluntary for both patients and healthcare providers.

Doctors failed to show they were harmed by failing to help terminally ill patients

In the Riverside ruling, the doctors failed to show they were harmed. EOLOA is voluntary for doctors–they can choose not to help terminally ill patients die.

The appellate ruling has no immediate impact on the current status of the law because the appeals court had put the trial court judgment on hold during California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s legal challenge.

News that the lower court ruling had been reversed buoyed advocates of doctor-supported death. “Our patients will be tremendously relieved,” said Dr. Catherine Sonquist Forest, a family physician in Northern California who has six terminally ill patients considering the option. “Thousands across the state will find great solace in knowing this option is there.”

Will this law yo-yo back and forth as opponents and advocates battle it out in court?

The law may be facing another legal fight, as the ruling skirted the larger issue of whether the legislation was unconstitutional. The case was sent back to the lower court, and the lawsuit could be amended and refiled. The court spelled out how the law’s challengers might be able to show harm to plaintiffs.

The Pros . . .

Justice Marsha Slough said it was not a stretch for the Legislature to consider assisted suicide as an extension of a discussion on the efficiency of the health-care system. She said there was no reason to “drag this case out” before finding lawmakers acted within their authority.

And the Cons

The Life Legal Defense Foundation, representing the doctors, is considering its options. “Assisted suicide is not health care and places countless Californians at risk of deadly harm,” said Matt Vallière of the Patients Rights Action Fund.

In 2017, the first full year assisted suicide was legal in California, 374 terminally ill people took drugs to end their lives. The District of Columbia and six other states — Oregon, Colorado, Montana, Vermont, Washington, and Hawaii — also allow assisted suicide.

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