Christian Medical and Dental Associations, et al. v. Bonta, et al

Compassion & Choices Intervenes in Attack on California Law

Litigation: Settled May 17, 2023

The Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), a group aiming to be the “hands of Jesus” in healthcare, along with one of its physician members, Dr. Leslee Cochrane, filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Rob Bonta and other state officials challenging the constitutionality of California’s recently amended medical aid-in-dying law on Feb. 22, 2022. Plaintiffs were represented by Alliance Defending Freedom and the Life Liberty Defense Foundation — organizations that have previously filed cases unsuccessfully challenging the constitutionality of medical aid in dying in other jurisdictions, including Ahn v. Hestrin, which was dismissed in November 2021.

The plaintiffs argued that the California End of Life Option Act forces them to participate in medical aid in dying and, therefore, violates their First Amendment rights of free exercise and free speech and their 14th Amendment rights of due process and equal protection. However, every aspect of medical aid in dying is voluntary, including physician participation. Non-participating physicians must merely meet the minimum standards of their professional obligations by 1) informing their patients they do not participate in medical aid in dying, 2) charting the patient’s request as well as the physician’s objection in the patient’s medical record and 3) transferring the patient’s medical record upon request.

Compassion & Choices, with the assistance of the firm O’Melveny, filed a motion to intervene in the case the following May on behalf of four clients, including Andrew Flack, a 34-year-old with terminal cancer who, at the time of filing, had an unfilled prescription for medical aid in dying and later died waiting for the judge to rule on our motion.

On September 2, 2022, a federal district court judge partially granted the plaintiffs’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, allowing physicians to refuse their basic obligation to maintain and complete accurate patient records. Ultimately the state defendants and plaintiffs reached a settlement on May 11, 2023. Compassion & Choices was not involved in the settlement negotiations. As a result,  on May 17, 2023, the Court entered a permanent injunction, awarded attorney fees of $300,000 to Alliance Defending Freedom and ruled that the motion to intervene that had languished for over a year was now moot.

Compassion & Choices is disappointed with the outcome of the case and maintains that California’s End of Life End of Life Option Act is, and always has been, entirely voluntary.

The rest of California’s revised End of Life Option Act remains in effect, so terminally ill patients who meet the law’s eligibility requirements can still obtain a doctor’s prescription for medical aid in dying. However, patients, not physicians, own their medical records. Compassion & Choices strongly believes that a physician should not be able to withhold factual information and limit a patient’s right to an accurate and complete medical record because of their personal beliefs.

To learn more about Compassion & Choices’ work to protect and expand medical aid in dying through the courts, please visit our Medical Aid in Dying Litigation page.

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