Decision overturning California’s assisted suicide law proper and very encouraging

By Dave Andrusko

California Gov. Jerry Brown

When a judge (properly, I might add) overturns Assembly Bill 15, California’s assisted suicide law, it is grounds for celebration.

Jennifer Popik, J.D., the director of the Powell Center for Medical Ethics, did an excellent job explaining how Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia issued an oral ruling declaring that lawmakers illegally used a special session in 2015 to ram the law into effect. The law will remain in place for five days in order to give the attorney general a chance to appeal.

Popik noted that Judge Ottolia did not rule on the underlying issue—whether health professionals should be permitted to “assist” someone in ending their life. Rather Judge Ottolia said Assembly Bill 15 “did not fall within the scope of health care services when the bill creating it was debated during a special section on the topic,” as NBC News described it.

Put more directly, it was preposterous that a measure “allowing” physicians to “assist” in suicide was debated in an extraordinary session which was called after the 2015 legislature’s regular session ended. These sessions are intended to address such issues as financing state health care.

I read a piece yesterday in the Monterey County Weekly, highly sympathetic to the law, which 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.

That’s cynical, even by the standards of the pro-assisted suicide lobby.

Two other quick items. First, when Brown signed the bill, Barbara Coombs Lee, the head of America’s leading right-to-die group Compassion & Choices, said, “This is the biggest victory for the death-with-dignity movement since Oregon passed the nation’s first law two decades ago.”

This is no exaggeration. California has roughly 1/10th of the population of the entire nation and sent a signal that such legislation was inevitable. Subsequently, thanks to a unique coalition, pro-death initiatives have largely lost.

Second, in signing the bill, Brown melodramatically wrote

“ABx2 15 is not an ordinary bill because it deals with life and death. The crux of the matter is whether the State of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life, no matter how great his pain or suffering …

“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

But, of course, as bioethicist Wesley J. Smith wrote at the time, this is “a false premise–as almost no assisted suicides are committed because of pain.”Moreover, Brown “damns hospice and palliative care with nary a mention.”

An important victory. We will keep you updated.