Ahn, et al. v Hestrin

Litigation; Compassion & Choices successfully protected California’s End of Life Options Act and continues to protect similar laws around the nation.

Compassion & Choices’ Legal Advocacy has fought tirelessly to protect California’s End of Life Option Act, which took effect on June 9, 2016. Just one day beforeCalifornia Advocate Matt FairChild the law was set to go into effect, opponents filed a Complaint with the Riverside Superior Court in an attempt to overturn the law and prevent thousands of terminally-ill Californians from accessing medical aid in dying. Fortunately, on November 1, 2021, after over five years of protracted litigation, the Court of Appeal dismissed the suit, leaving the California End of Life Options Act in force.

The Plaintiffs included individual doctors who were opposed to the law and the American Academy of Medical Ethics. Plaintiffs sued a number of California officials, including Michael Hestrin, District Attorney of Riverside County; Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General of California; and the State of California, by and through the California Department of Health. Compassion & Choices has been involved with the case since 2016, first as an amicus to the court, and then as a Defendant-Intervenor.

After filing their Complaint, Plaintiffs sought a Preliminary Injunction, which if granted, would have prevented terminally-ill Californians from accessing the law while the lawsuit was pending. On July 19, 2016, Compassion & Choices filed a  Brief of Amicus Curiae in Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, arguing that Plaintiffs’ request should be denied because terminally ill patients, not Plaintiffs, faced the greatest threat of harm if the court granted Plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunction. Thankfully, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction.

Access to the law was temporarily interrupted in 2018 when, at a hearing on May 15, 2018, the Court ruled that the End of Life Option Act was unconstitutional because it was passed outside the scope of the special legislative session. In June 2018, Compassion & Choices appealed the Court’s ruling and requested the California Attorney General take a position on whether the Notice of Appeal triggers an automatic stay of the judge’s ruling, which would reinstate the End of Life Option Act pending further court rulings. On July 18, 2018, the Court of Appeals sided with Compassion & Choices, officially reinstating the End of Life Option Act while also recognizing that the Act was officially reinstated on June 1, 2018, when Compassion & Choices filed its Notice of Appeal.

On November 27, 2018, the Fourth District Court of Appeals of California issued an Opinion, holding that Plaintiffs did not have legal standing to file their lawsuit opposing medical aid in dying and remanded the case back to the trial court.

On May 7, 2019, while the case was on remand, Compassion & Choices filed a Motion to Intervene, asking the trial court to allow us to be a formal party to the case. The Court granted our motion on July 5, 2019 on behalf of Andrea Saltzman and Matthew Fairchild, two terminally ill Californians, but declined to give Dr. Catherine S. Forest intervenor status. We appealed the denial of Dr. Forest’s intervenor status on August 30, 2019.

Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint in February 2020, attempting to correct the standing issues. While litigation in this case was ongoing, Compassion & Choices was also working to pass SB 380, which included key improvements to California’s medical aid-in-dying law. On October 5, 2021, SB 380 was signed into effect by Governor Gavin Newsom.

The renewed passage of the End of Life Options Act mooted Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims. Plaintiffs’ entered a stipulated Motion to Dismiss on October 29, 2021, which was granted by the Court on November 1, 2021. This Order of Dismissal officially ended this legal threat to California’s End of Life Options Act.

The dismissal of the lawsuit signifies a huge victory for Compassion & Choices’ mission to expand and ensure access to medical aid in dying. We will continue to be vigilant in protecting the practice of medical aid in dying in California and in all authorized states.

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