Judge rejects request for stay of judgment that invalidated California’s assisted suicide law

By Dave Andrusko

As we end the week, here is a quick update of the status of California’s improperly passed assisted suicide law.

On May 15 Riverside Superior Court Judge, Daniel A. Ottolia invalidated the End of Life Option Act, explaining that in 2015 the legislature violated the state constitution by passing the law during a special session that was supposed to be limited to health care issues. The plaintiffs who challenged the law included the Life Legal Defense Foundation, which represents six doctors, and the American Academy of Medical Ethics.

However Judge Ottolia did not rule on the issue of permitting health professionals to assist someone to end their life.

As NRL News Today reported, on May 23, the 4th District Circuit Court of Appeal denied a motion by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for a stay to suspend the ruling. However, as Prof. Thaddeus Pope, the author of the Medical Futility blogspot, explained, the appeals court “ordered the plaintiffs to show cause why the appellate court should not overturn the ruling in 25 days.”

Earlier this week Judge Ottolia rejected a separate motion filed on behalf of a physician and two terminally ill adults urging the judge to vacate his judgment. Judge Ottolia has also scheduled a hearing on June 29 to consider California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s motion to vacate his judgment.

In 2015, the California legislature’s regular session had come to a close and the assisted suicide bill had stalled in a Senate Health committee due to concerns over potential dangers. An extraordinary session was called, as noted above, to address health care issues.

Dozens of diverse groups, including those in the disability rights community, the American Medical Association, and pro-life groups objected to the manuever, but the bill was muscled through anyway.

When the bill went into effect on June 9, The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund [DREDF], a leading national disability rights law and policy center based in Berkeley, California, denounced the enactment of California’s End of Life Option Act.

“DREDF and all our coalition partners, including the many California disability organizations that opposed this law, remain gravely concerned about it. The End of Life Option Act:

  • is conducive to elder abuse,
  • has very weak safeguards, allowing families to shop for other doctors to provide lethal drugs if the first physician says no, and endangering patients who receive terminal diagnoses that are often mistaken,
  • puts people with depression at risk, and does not require patients requesting lethal drugs to receive a mental health evaluation,
  • provides for no investigation of abuse, and
  • requires no neutral witness to be present when the lethal drugs are taken.”

California, along with Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Colorado, and Hawaii and the District of Columbia, has legalized the 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.