Appeals Court refuses to stay decision overturning California assisted-death law

By Dave Andrusko

Kudos to Alex Schadenberg for reporting that on Wednesday California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals refused Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s request for a stay of Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia’s decision that California’s assisted suicide law had been improperly passed.

Neither decision addressed the underlying constitutionality of the 2015 California End of Life Option Act.

However Judge Ottolia only stated the obvious in an oral ruling delivered May 15. The measure had stalled in a Senate Health committee due to concerns over potential dangers and proponents reintroduced the bill in a special session on health care funding.

The Sacramento Bee’s Taryn Luna explained Becerra’s tortuous reasoning:

Becerra argued in court documents that the reversal “contradicts both the deference owed the Legislature and an earlier finding by the same court that the act was within the scope of the special session,” called to improve the efficiency of the health care system and improve health in California. He said laws enacted during a special session can be broadly germane to the subject matter.

Assisted suicide is “improving health” which is “broadly germane to improv[ing] the efficiency of the health care system”? Only in California.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals’ order was very brief and (as the Associated Press noted) gave “Becerra and other parties time to ‘show cause’ — that is, provide more arguments as to why the court should grant the stay and suspend the lower court ruling.”

The AP also added, “California health officials reported that 111 terminally ill people took drugs to end their lives in the first six months after the law went into effect June 9, 2016.”

The California End of Life Option Act was pushed through over the objection of dozens of diverse groups, including those in the disability rights community, the American Medical Association, and pro-life groups. The bill was subsequently challenged by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, which represents six doctors, and the American Academy of Medical Ethics.

A story in the Monterey County Weekly, highly sympathetic to the law, illustrated how underhanded the whole operation was. Sara Rubin wrote

In 2015, state senators Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Lois Wolk, D-Davis, pulled their bill before it looked like it might die in committee. The Legislature then convened for an extraordinary session on health, where they passed a carbon-copy of the bill, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law.

Even by the standards of the assisted suicide lobby, that’s pretty cynical.

California, along with five states (Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Colorado, and Hawaii) as well as the District of Columbia, has legalized the dangerous practice of allowing a person’s physician to prescribe a lethal overdose of medication to certain patients—assisted suicide or, as proponents like to call it, Medical Assistance in Dying.

However, in 2018 alone, dozens of identical initiatives were defeated by a determined coalition comprised of a wide variety of groups.

Part of the explanation for why almost all the initiatives (over 175 legislative attempts over the years) have been defeated is that every proposal is very similar to Oregon’s nearly 20-year-old law. Critics were able to cite Oregon’s experience to prove conclusively that the “safeguards” in assisted suicide laws do not work the way proponents say they will.