National Right to Life applauds a recently filed case in California challenging the state’s assisted suicide law as unconstitutional

By Jennifer Popik, J.D., Director of Federal Legislation

Editor’s note. This appears in the May digital edition of National Right to Life News. Please share with your pro-life family and friends.

On April 25, 2023, a case challenging California’s assisted suicide law (California’s End of Life Option Act) was filed, and could have nationwide implications if successful.

The new case in California is claiming that the state’s assisted suicide law is discriminatory in that it creates a two-tiered medical system in which people who are suicidal are protected, and treated, while a person with a “terminal disease” (which is classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act) is not protected, but given the option of lethal medication to end their life.

According to a legal synopsis from the plaintiffs,

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in various aspects of life including medical treatment. The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life function. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability.

Individuals who are facing life-threatening conditions qualify as people with disabilities under the ADA, as those conditions themselves not only cause physical and/or mental impairments, they are impairments that substantially limit major life functions. The lawsuit seeks to establish that California’s assisted suicide law is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the equal protection and substantive due process clauses in the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. (See more here.)

Assisted suicide is legal in nine states (CA, CO, HI, ME, NJ, NM, OR, VT, WA) and D.C. Many of these states’ laws contain scant so-called ”safeguards,” and now we see a move to remove them. Several states are seeking to expand who can prescribe the drug, and others are racing to remove residency requirements.

The timing of the California case is critical as Vermont (on May 2, 2023) lifted their residency requirement in order for people to obtain assisted suicide, joining with Oregon to become suicide tourism states. Vermont in particular permits assisted suicide by telemedicine, meaning non-residents could be prescribed lethal drugs virtually on the basis of a single virtual visit.

Assisted suicide laws pose a danger to vulnerable groups, including those with disabilities. States who have taken the misguided step of legalizing assisted suicide are creating a dangerous double standard for suicide intervention, ignoring the ADA, and abandoning patients.

While promoted as only applying to those with terminal illness, these laws invariably expand to include people with ongoing, treatable, medical issues. In states like Oregon, diabetics and those with HIV are getting lethal drugs. Colorado also reports the issuance of lethal drugs to people suffering from anorexia.

National Right to Life will continue to fight these dangerous laws, and applaud the disability rights groups and plaintiffs in California for their efforts on the ongoing litigation.